Child care and early education advocates were pleased to see $55 million restored for state preschool and child care programs in the budget compromise working its way to the governor’s desk.
“It’s a start,” said Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, who has pushed for several measures aimed at expanding and improving early childhood programs in the state. “We’re not doing as much as we hoped, but we are beginning to see dollars directed back into preschool and early child care.”
The new funding will be split between the state preschool program, which will receive $30 million in addition to their current budget of $481 million, and the general child care fund, which will receive an additional $25.8 million. Considering the governor had not proposed any new funding for these programs so far this year, the changes amount to a muted win, said Scott Moore, senior policy analyst for advocacy group Early Edge California.
“We’ve seen $1 billion in cuts to children and child care” over the last five years, Moore said. “Now we’re looking at $55 million in restoration. We have a ways to go.”
Also in the plus column for advocates, the California Department of Education would be required to develop a plan for expanding the state preschool program. This action is seen as the first step in preparing to apply for any federal money that may be available if President Barack Obama’s plan to expand funding for public preschool passes Congress. The budget also includes administrative changes in the way the CalWorks child care voucher program for families in the state’s welfare-to-work program is run. The changes should allow families to receive uninterrupted benefits when income increases cause them to shift from one subsidy level to another.
A controversial fee for half-day state preschool will remain in place, however. Bonilla led a push in the Assembly to add language to the budget trailer bill removing the fee for low-income families who qualify for subsidized preschool but make too much to get free care. Four-person families making between $26,000 and $37,900 pay $1 to $8.88 per three-hour school day, based on a sliding scale.
“I do feel badly about that,” Bonilla said. “It was only $4 million (in revenue from the fee). When we made that change in committee we really were confident that fee would be dropped.”
Bonilla said the fee is an administrative headache for providers and keeps some children from enrolling. Dozens of providers testified about the impact before her education budget subcommittee hearing on the fee on March 20. However, there is not clear data on how many children may have left state preschool programs because of the fee and some providers have reported that they see the fee as a positive development, as EdSource has reported.
Overall, Bonilla said she’s hopeful that the added funding indicates a shift in priorities for the Legislature and the governor toward better funding for early education. Progress has been made, she said.
“I honestly believe there just wasn’t enough money to do more,” she said.
Lillian Mongeau covers early childhood education. Contact her and follow her @lrmongeau.