A report out today by a coalition of government organizations and early learning advocates, shows just how severely the $1.2 billion cut to state funding for early childhood education has affected Los Angeles County. Since 2008, 1,400 locations, or 15 percent of licensed child care centers in the county that had served 11,200 infants and toddlers have closed.
Laura Escobedo, the child care planning coordinator for L.A. County, said nearly a third of the statewide cut, or about $400 million dollars, came out of her county’s budget. Much of the data in today’s report was gathered by Escobedo’s organization in cooperation with L.A. County Head Start and Los Angeles Universal Preschool. Escobedo said they knew there had been a reduction in child care spots and they wanted to pinpoint how severely that reduction had affected individual neighborhoods and districts. Once the data was compiled and worked into a single database, Escobedo said it was clear to her that funding cuts have brought the early childhood care system in her county to the brink.
“[Policymakers] can’t keep coming back and cutting more,” Escobedo said. “It’s not tenable. The system won’t last with any more cuts.”
Escobedo said the effect of cuts on the lowest-income families with no money to spend on child care was the most severe. The report shows that even a relatively small cut in funding of, say, 10 percent, would have a disproportionate effect on low-income families. Such a cut would result in a 12 percent reduction in child care seats overall, but would work out to 59 percent reduction of seats for low-income children. Since the poorest families require the largest subsidies, a decrease in public funding affects them more than families who can afford to pay for all or part of their child’s early care or preschool costs.
“It isn’t just putting 10 chairs away in a closet,” Escobedo said. “It ripples through the entire system.”
The coalition of government agencies worked together with a coalition of advocacy groups to produce a publicly searchable database showing how many seats are available in certain regions in comparison to the number of children in that same region. The database, which can now be found online at SaveMySeatLA.org, allows users to drill down by zip code, school district or congressional district among other search criteria. On average, the report found, there are only seven child care or preschool seats available for every 100 children aged 0- to 3-years-old and only 38 seats available for every 100 children aged 3- to 5-years-old.
Whatever conclusions can be drawn from the data, just getting all of it in one place is an accomplishment. Subsidized preschool and child care spots are notoriously difficult to count.
“When a principal of a school or a parent asks, ‘how many children in my town have a preschool to go to?’ You might think that’s an easy answer. But it isn’t,” said Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation.
Guernsey recently co-authored a paper urging policy-makers nationwide to do a better job counting kids and tracking funds. She wrote that overlapping funding streams and the multiplicity of child care and preschool providers make it extremely difficult to figure out just what is available to the youngest Americans.
“It’s great, if not heroic, for communities to be trying to collect this data and provide it to their communities in a way that’s useful,” Guernsey said. “Being able to know what’s open and available is a really big step.”