After years of funding cuts to early childhood programs, Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget would keep funding levels nearly the same as last year.
“There was no restoration of the cuts from recent years, but no additional cuts,” said Rachel Ehlers of the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO).
Brown’s budget allocates $2.2 billion, including designated federal funds, to cover child care and state preschool for 340,000 children in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, said Ehlers. Some funding would be moved around within the CalWORKS child care program for low-income children, but it would not affect the number of children served or the overall funding available.
Scott Moore, senior policy analyst for the advocacy group Preschool California, said not restoring the lost funding was a missed opportunity. “That’s the number one glaring omission in the budget,” Moore said. “What we know from research is that when we invest in early childhood education, that’s the best investment we can make.”
Early childhood education programs have been cut by about $1 billion since the 2008-2009 fiscal year and now serve 110,000 fewer children than they did before the recession, according to the LAO. Moore said holding funding steady at its current rate does not address the need for expanded child care and preschool programs in the state.
Despite the budget cutbacks, California spends more per child on early education than most states, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). Sixteen percent of the state’s 3-year-olds and 32 percent of its 4-year-olds attended some form of state- or federally-funded preschool in 2011, according to the institute.
Not all early childhood programs are dependent on allocations from the state’s general fund. Many are funded through First 5 California, the commission created by voter initiative Proposition 10. The 1998 initiative added a 50-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes that generates approximately $590 million annually. “It’s allocated, it’s voter approved,” said Lindsay VanLaningham, spokesperson for First 5 California, referring to Prop. 10 funding. “The governor really can’t change that.”
Preschool California’s Moore is not ready to accept the governor’s proposal as final. He said he “looked forward” to working with the Legislature to push for restoration of the lost funding. “This is our youngest and most vulnerable population,” Moore said. “They’ve been tremendously hurt over the last four years and we need to take care of our youngest children.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson expressed a similar view Thursday. While applauding Gov. Brown for beginning to restore what K-12 schools have lost, he said, “I do believe that early education programs — cut deeply in recent years — deserve to share in this recovery as well.”