Lawmakers are proposing to add hundreds of millions more dollars to childcare and preschool initiatives than what Gov. Jerry Brown proposed in the state budget, but the increase is likely to meet resistance from the governor.
The Assembly and Senate budget committees passed proposals in recent weeks to increase the amount of money and spaces for childcare, boost voucher programs and give more money to centers that watch over children.
The Assembly’s proposal adds $605 million for childcare and preschool programs, while the Senate’s plan adds $332 million. Both proposals would substantially increase what Brown proposed in his revised budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Brown’s total budget for childcare and preschool in the coming year is $2.6 billion, according to figures from the Legislative Analyst’s Office. That amount, part of the governor’s May budget revision, bumps funding for early education by $88 million from what he proposed in January.
In a news conference held May 14 to explain his revisions to the budget, Brown warned state lawmakers to be prudent spenders, despite a rebounding state economy and an increase in state revenue in recent months. He said the Legislature must take into account California’s boom-and-bust cycles and refrain from overspending during periods of prosperity, such as the one the state now enjoys.
“We know a recession is on the way,” Brown said. “It’s around the corner. Is it next year? Is it four years from now? It’s coming. And when it comes and you get these cutbacks, who’s cut back? School teachers, people on welfare…. It’s inevitable. This is the reality of California. And people who don’t know that’s the reality are blinding themselves to what it is.”
“So it isn’t that child care isn’t a good thing,” the governor added. “But there’s a lot of good things. So which one do you want? If you like to say, ‘Instead of K-12, we need pre-K-12,’ – that’s 13 years, or some would say 14 years. Well maybe you have to chop off at the other end. If it’s so important to start earlier maybe you shouldn’t be thinking about the last two years. Whatever it is, you have to make choices; either rearranging the funding or find some other way to get funds.”
After saying two weeks ago that Brown’s early education budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year was too skimpy, early education advocates are now praising the Assembly and Senate plans.
“We’re really excited to see the proposals from both the Assembly and Senate,” said Molly Tafoya, a spokeswoman for Early Edge, a group that advocates for high-quality preschool programs. “They recognize that there is a great unmet need in California for an increase in investment.”
The budget committees had more money to work with when they came up with their proposals: The Legislative Analyst’s Office is predicting that the state will have about $3 billion more in revenue than the governor’s office forecast in the revised May budget.
Some of the highlights of the new budget plans:
Preschool: The Assembly’s version would add 10,500 full-day preschool slots, compared to 2,500 part-time spaces aimed at 3- and 4-year-olds with special needs in the governor’s plan. The Senate’s plan adds 4,300 spaces for “general” childcare that includes some preschool slots.
Vouchers: The state would pay for 10,000 vouchers for childcare slots in the Assembly’s plan or 13,200 slots in the Senate’s plan. Brown’s plan has no increase from last year in “alternative payment” voucher slots.
Payments to childcare centers: The Senate would boost the reimbursements to childcare centers by about 4 percent, while the Assembly wants to hike the amount by 20 percent. The governor’s plan offers cost-of-living increases.
The Senate budget plan would be funded by dipping into funds guaranteed by Proposition 98, which requires that a minimum percentage of the state’s funding be spent on kindergarten through 12th grade education and guarantees annual increases.
“Folding it into Proposition 98 has a clear benefit of getting more dollars to those programs,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, a statewide advocacy group. “We need to put more emphasis on those early years.”
The two plans now move to conference committees made up of members of both the Assembly and Senate, who will will meet to reconcile the proposals. The full Legislature must approve the budget to send to Brown by June 15.
H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance, cautioned the Legislature to heed a recent warning from the Legislative Analyst’s Office about ongoing spending commitments, particularly when lawmakers have adopted the LAO’s forecast of higher revenues in their spending plans:
“We are clearly on the upward slope of the state’s revenue roller coaster,” the LAO said in response to Brown’s revised budget. “But just as the state’s revenue picture has improved significantly over just a few months, it can just as easily reverse course with a stock market or economic downturn. There is little indication that such a downturn will occur soon. But … such slumps can occur with little warning.”
Here is the full transcript of Gov. Jerry Brown’s comments about funding early education; he made the remarks during a May 14 news conference detailing his revised budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year:
Question: The Women’s Legislative Caucus is calling for an extra $600 million in funding for childcare providers. Is that something that you address in this budget?
Brown: No. The point I want to make is that as I look forward to my last term as governor is that I don’t want to get caught in the jaws of the persistent fiscal instability of the state government of California. The idea that when you get a little money – or a lot of money, for a few years – that now you’ve reached utopia is so demonstrably false as evidenced by the last 12 years. We have to learn from history and not keep repeating the mistakes.
If you look at the social stratification of America, of California, in fact in many parts of the world, there are needs that would definitely warrant, in many people’s minds, government help. But in order to do that you’d need a considerably larger budget, and we don’t have that – although we do have a rather large budget, and it’s growing.
This budget is a third bigger than it was at the bottom of the recession. We know a recession is on the way. It’s around the corner. Is it next year? Is it four years from now? It’s coming. And when it comes and you get these cutbacks, who’s cut back? School teachers, people on welfare, all sorts of programs; the University of California. It’s inevitable. This is the reality of California. And people who don’t know that’s the reality are blinding themselves to what it is.
It’s not that there aren’t many good programs, and it isn’t that we couldn’t construct a California where the public sector was considerably bigger, or probably more appropriately, a public sector in America considerably bigger. But that is not where we are. And so we have to take what we have, spend it prudently and don’t think, “Oh, this year, that’s it.” No, there’s the year after and the year after that.
And we have pretty good evidence for how we have to operate. When I was governor the first time, we didn’t have this. We didn’t know about it. But we do know about it. So we can’t act like it isn’t there.
So it isn’t that child care isn’t a good thing. But there’s a lot of good things. So which one do you want? If you like to say, “Instead of K-12, we need pre-K-12,” – that’s 13 years, or some would say 14 years. Well maybe you have to chop off at the other end. If it’s so important to start earlier maybe you shouldn’t be thinking about the last two years. Whatever it is, you have to make choices; either rearranging the funding or find some other way to get funds.