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While Gov. Jerry Brown battles the University of California regents to keep a lid on undergraduate tuition, the rising cost of childcare and preschool are often a bigger concern for middle-class families in the state – and one that is noticeably absent from the state’s public policy agenda.

For many middle-class families in California, the price tags for pre-kindergarten programs are major budget breakers, with parents paying as much as $24,000 a year per child. By comparison, a year of UC tuition and fees costs about $13,000 per student.

In the past year, the state has increased the number of subsidized childcare and preschool slots available for low-income families. But middle-class families get little or no help, despite ample research showing that high-quality early care makes a big difference in academic and other long-term outcomes for all children.

“The cost of being in the middle class – and of maintaining a middle-class standard of living – is rising fast,” according to a report last year by the nonpartisan Center for American Progress. “For fundamental needs such as childcare and health care, costs have risen dramatically over the past few decades, taking up larger shares of family budgets. The reality is that the middle class is being squeezed.”

That burden can add extra stress during an already stressful time for parents, who may need to cut back on other expenses – or settle for lower-cost, and lower quality, childcare centers or preschool.

Amanda McClure Shavers, a stay-at-home mother of two in the city of Alameda, enrolled her daughter Emily in a cooperative preschool in 2009, at a cost of $360 a month. The tuition was so low because parents were required to provide volunteer help. The family budget – which included rent on the house and student loan payments for Amanda and husband David – wasn’t big enough to support paying any more.

Six years later, Emily is a 3rd-grader in a public school and the Shavers are better off financially after David, a filmmaker, landed a well-paying job at Pixar Animation Studios. Their second child, Nolan, turns 4 in June and heads for preschool in the fall. His parents hope to enroll him in a private preschool – at a much higher cost than their daughter’s preschool.

They are expecting to pay as much as three times more than they did for their daughter’s school. They now can afford $1,000 a month for preschool – but it still comes with a bit of sticker shock.

“Where I come from, that was a house payment,” said Amanda, who grew up in Austin, Texas.

“For fundamental needs such as childcare and health care, costs have risen dramatically over the past few decades, taking up larger shares of family budgets,” according to the nonpartisan Center for American Progress. “The reality is that the middle class is being squeezed.”

Their situation is typical for middle-income families in California, where preschool costs are among the least affordable in the nation, according to a 2013 report by Child Care Aware, a nonprofit, nationwide information and referral organization.

Last year there was a major push in California to expand transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds, regardless of family income. Transitional kindergarten is in effect an extra year of kindergarten, for which only 4-year-olds who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 are eligible. But rather than expanding the program, Brown and the Legislature chose instead to increase by 11,500 the number of state-subsidized, full-day preschool openings for low-income children.

Darrell Steinberg, the former state Senate President pro Tempore who championed universal preschool for every 4-year-old child in California before he was termed out last year, told EdSource that the top priority for state preschools should be to serve low-income families first. But he added: “There are folks just above that line who have a great need for quality preschool but can’t afford it” without financial help.

Steinberg said he hopes the current Legislature “moves that line up some more, so that more families are eligible.” Another option, he added, would be to create a sliding scale of fees, based on family income, that would make it possible for middle-income families to afford preschool costs. 

Universal childcare models

There was a brief period when the United States offered free care to all preschool children. In the throes of World War II, the federal government created its first – and only – national childcare system. The Lanham Act, as it was known, was signed by President Franklin Roosevelt and lasted just three years, from 1943 to 1946. But in that time, more than half a million children received free childcare, up to six days a week, while their mothers were pressed into the workforce in communities with defense industries such as Richmond’s Kaiser shipyards.

Twenty-five years later, Congress, with bipartisan support, approved another national childcare program, known as the Comprehensive Child Development Act, which aimed to create a nationwide network of childcare centers that would offer care for children while their low-income, single parents worked.

But President Richard Nixon, who had publicly supported the legislation as a way to help low-income mothers move from welfare into full-time jobs, vetoed the legislation in 1972. His veto was widely viewed as an attempt to reassure critics of his “opening to China” trip that he wasn’t attempting to set up a system of state-sponsored childcare in the United States.

Today, a few U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and most recently New York, are working to build universal preschool programs open to all 4-year-olds. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio aims to follow the example of Oklahoma, which adopted a program in 1998 that offered free access to preschool for all 4-year-olds in the state. Georgia is the only other state with free, universal pre-kindergarten programs.

New York is the first big city in the U.S. to combine funding from the state, federal Head Start, city social services departments, community-based organizations and fees charged to parents to support a rapid expansion in pre-K enrollment, according to a new study from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Human Development. But the city has a ways to go to meet its goal of offering free preschool for all 4-year-olds, regardless of family income.

The city’s 99,000 preschool slots are spread among low-, middle- and higher-income neighborhoods. Currently, the vast majority of those slots are in private schools that charge fees, and the rest are subsidized by the city, state and federal governments, according to the UC Berkeley study.

Last year the mayor’s office created 26,000 new full-day slots in the city, with 40 percent of those slots in middle- to upper-middle-class communities where families earn more than the city’s median annual household income of $58,000, and de Blasio has promised to expand the program even more into middle-income areas of the city.

Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley education professor and expert in early childhood education who led the study, praised de Blasio for “trying to help kids,” but said New York’s priority should be to first help low-income families, including 12,000 4-year-olds in the poorest parts of the city who aren’t enrolled in the universal preschool program.

Still, there is no widespread agreement on how government – at the local, state and federal level – can make preschool and childcare more affordable to more middle-class families.

“We have to start with the lowest-income children,” said Mark Friedman, co-chair of Raising Californians Together, referring to efforts to expand programs to help the poorest California children. “But we can’t stop at that.” 

In his State of the Union Speech this year, President Barack Obama proposed providing financial relief to middle-class parents by increasing the federal child-care tax credit to a maximum of $3,000 for two children, triple the current credit of $1,000. But even if the plan manages to get Congressional approval – which seems unlikely – it would  barely make a dent in a family’s total childcare expenses.

Making early learning a priority

In recent weeks, proposals aimed to boost funding for early education programs in California have attracted attention – such as a proposal by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, to boost funding for state childcare vouchers for low-income families.

Mark Friedman, who co-chairs Raising California Together, a coalition of labor groups, early education advocates and community groups, hopes to “fundamentally change the priority of early education in the state.”

The coalition and other groups are pushing to expand full-time pre-kindergarten slots for low-income families in California. Families of four that earn less than $23,850 a year qualify for Early Head Start and Head Start programs. The same-sized family qualifies for the state’s full-time preschools if its annual income is less than $46,896.

But what about California parents who aren’t low-income and who need care for their young children?

With California enjoying a fiscal surplus after years of deep budget deficits, there is an opportunity now to invest more money in early education, Friedman said. But he acknowledged that the state isn’t likely in the near future to get free universal preschool like Oklahoma.

“We have to start with the lowest-income children,” Friedman said. “But we can’t stop at that.”


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  1. Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

    "There was a brief period when the United States offered free care to all preschool children. In the throes of World War II, the federal government created its first – and only – national childcare system. The Lanham Act, as it was known, was signed by President Franklin Roosevelt and lasted just three years, from 1943 to 1946. But in that time, more than half a million children received free childcare, up to six days … Read More

    “There was a brief period when the United States offered free care to all preschool children. In the throes of World War II, the federal government created its first – and only – national childcare system. The Lanham Act, as it was known, was signed by President Franklin Roosevelt and lasted just three years, from 1943 to 1946. But in that time, more than half a million children received free childcare, up to six days a week…” From above article.

    Wow, that’s a shock. Almost universal childcare as part of the New Deal, a Roosevelt signed initiative. And the a like program vetoed by a Republican. Who’d have guessed?

    The answers here are not rocket science: 1) use the New Deal formula; 2) tax the rich and spend the revues on programs need to support children and others in need; 3) make Prop 30 permanent; get rid of the tax loopholes created by Republicans for corporations when they were able to black-mail the legislature into creating them because they had minority control of budget approval (since remedied by Prop 25; and, fix Prop 13 to fairly and appropriately tax commercial property. That’s a start.

  2. carolyna 1 year ago1 year ago

    This is my frustration. I live in Southern CA, to get subsidized care for my toddler, I have to be dirt poor/homeless to be priority. But because I am not in living in those conditions, I do not qualify and have to stay at home until he starts school, find a job that pays more than $20 an hour for day care to make sense, or another option I have been thinking of is … Read More

    This is my frustration. I live in Southern CA, to get subsidized care for my toddler, I have to be dirt poor/homeless to be priority. But because I am not in living in those conditions, I do not qualify and have to stay at home until he starts school, find a job that pays more than $20 an hour for day care to make sense, or another option I have been thinking of is to start a small business where I can work from home!

    It has been a real pain in the ass for me as a woman to live like this, some help to middle class folk would really make a difference!

  3. Martina Rodriguez 1 year ago1 year ago

    Many years ago I was in welfare until I got on my feet. I went to trade school to better myself so I wouldn't have to rely on others help. Worked my butt off to get ahead. I am now just slightly over the "low income limit" but only a little. So now I don't qualify for childcare or any kind of subsidy. My children can't go to preschool … Read More

    Many years ago I was in welfare until I got on my feet. I went to trade school to better myself so I wouldn’t have to rely on others help. Worked my butt off to get ahead. I am now just slightly over the “low income limit” but only a little. So now I don’t qualify for childcare or any kind of subsidy. My children can’t go to preschool because I can’t afford the $1000 a month for private. I can’t afford the $850 it costs for public preschool. I live check by check working 50 + hours a week and tons of overtime in a hospital and now pay out my nose in taxes have to pay over $400 a month in healthcare can barely afford groceries and by groceries a few days at a time because I can’t afford bigger trips to save money. My preschooler is missing out on preschool. I am struggling more now than I ever did when I was getting help. There is no real incentive for people to get ahead and the ones that do are punished for working hard. So unless you are wealthy or poor your kid will get no preschool. It’s sad….especially when kindergarten expects your child to know their abcs and count and recognize numbers through 10 and be able to write their name before they start. How does any of this make sense. Why is are the ones in the middle the worst off. California’s cost of living has become out of control but moving out of state to the middle of no where just for affordable housing and groceries makes no sense.

  4. Kathleen 1 year ago1 year ago

    "The coalition and other groups are pushing to expand full-time pre-kindergarten slots for low-income families in California. Families of four that earn less than $23,850 a year qualify for Early Head Start and Head Start programs. The same-sized family qualifies for the state’s full-time preschools if its annual income is less than $46,896." We live in such a backward state of living. All of the middle-class families are being treated like crap!! Our taxes … Read More

    “The coalition and other groups are pushing to expand full-time pre-kindergarten slots for low-income families in California. Families of four that earn less than $23,850 a year qualify for Early Head Start and Head Start programs. The same-sized family qualifies for the state’s full-time preschools if its annual income is less than $46,896.”

    We live in such a backward state of living. All of the middle-class families are being treated like crap!! Our taxes pay for school, school programs, school lunches for LOWER income families to go to a great school of their choice! Why should lower income families do better with themselves, when everything is paid for by Middle class families? Sec 8 housing, free lunches, free weekly groceries, free preschool. While i work my 60 hrs a week to pay for my housing, pay for my groceries, and pay for preschool at $1200 per month! his preschool is 1.5 of my monthly paycheck. And on top of that, our taxes goes to all the schools and pay for teachers, yet, I still have to pay for schools and fight to get to a preschool that 20 minutes drive to my work or house. The families that says they live in San Francisco for less than $24000 / year is teaching their kids to LIE to the system!!!

    Replies

    • carolyna 1 year ago1 year ago

      I totally agree with you. That is my fear when I think of maybe leaving my child in daycare, if I get ahead would I be better off, is the daycare going to take most of my paycheck right?

  5. Meriweh 2 years ago2 years ago

    P.S., The middle class is nothing more than a chalk drawing. Low-income does not adequately describe the living conditions of many "low-income" people. Many of them have subsidized housing. Many of them qualify for subsidized utilities. Many of them qualify for food stamps. Many of them have free lunch for their children AND now free dinner in some schools. Many of them have free college. Many of them have free college text books. … Read More

    P.S., The middle class is nothing more than a chalk drawing. Low-income does not adequately describe the living conditions of many “low-income” people. Many of them have subsidized housing. Many of them qualify for subsidized utilities. Many of them qualify for food stamps. Many of them have free lunch for their children AND now free dinner in some schools. Many of them have free college. Many of them have free college text books. Now I know why some of these people can afford expensive amusement parks and restaurants and I can’t – They have little to no overhead. Why bother to do better when they can have the same things some person who works 40 hours a week??? By in large, many of them are overweight. These people are not poor. These people are low class. Again, I know this first hand, as I work for an entity that gives far too many benefits to people. I firmly believe that it is a disservice to subsidized nearly everything, as it removes the motivation to do better. I am willing to bet that nearly every middle class American would not get up and go to work if someone else paid the rent, bought the groceries, paid their utilities and paid for their children’s college.

    Replies

    • Martina Rodriguez 1 year ago1 year ago

      I am in exact same position. I work my butt off to still live check by check. I pay more taxes than some of the rich because I don't have enough deductions, since I can't afford to buy a house. I don't get free health care or free groceries and preschool is way out of my budget when I am living check by check.....and I and only slightly above the … Read More

      I am in exact same position. I work my butt off to still live check by check. I pay more taxes than some of the rich because I don’t have enough deductions, since I can’t afford to buy a house. I don’t get free health care or free groceries and preschool is way out of my budget when I am living check by check…..and I and only slightly above the ” lower income brackets” the middle income families are punished the most. I live worse off than most on welfare. It makes no sense.

  6. Meriweh 2 years ago2 years ago

    Sadly, the only thing one gets for being responsible is more responsibility. Most middle class people only have the number of children they, themselves can afford to care for. The end result is little or no assistance. However, there are SOME, (I want to be clear on SOME), low in-come people give little or no thought as to how many children they have, because there are so many social programs that will fill in the … Read More

    Sadly, the only thing one gets for being responsible is more responsibility. Most middle class people only have the number of children they, themselves can afford to care for. The end result is little or no assistance. However, there are SOME, (I want to be clear on SOME), low in-come people give little or no thought as to how many children they have, because there are so many social programs that will fill in the gaps. I know this first hand, as I work for a public entity that doles out money to low-income people. I firmly see why some people get so disenfranchised with government red tape and left leaning policies, that they come off the grid and move to the mountains.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

      Meriweh: A couple of points: 1) If a crowdsourcing site was established to help those "disenfranchised" folks who want to get off the grid and move to the mountains, I would be likely to contribute and help them on their merry way. 2) Some "food for thought" for you that is actually based on social science research and historical analysis: It was once believed if working-class families had fewer children economic success followed. Analysis showed as conditions for … Read More

      Meriweh:

      A couple of points:

      1) If a crowdsourcing site was established to help those “disenfranchised” folks who want to get off the grid and move to the mountains, I would be likely to contribute and help them on their merry way.

      2) Some “food for thought” for you that is actually based on social science research and historical analysis:

      It was once believed if working-class families had fewer children economic success followed. Analysis showed as conditions for the working-class improved, via labor and political organizing, their incomes improved. Then birth rates declined as these groups eased into the middle-class.

      Recently claims that teenage girls who single parents undercut chances of escaping poverty. The proposed “solution,” was to promote marriage and “family values.” But it wasn’t single-parenthood that caused poverty, it was poverty causing them to be single parents.

      The truth about education, for policy makers and politicians, is that it is poverty needs to be alleviated and educational achievement will follow.

  7. Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

    Food for thought: From Center for American progress on OECD Report To put it plainly, the United States is getting beat when it comes to preschool. On almost every element, the United States ranks behind most of the other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD. We rank: • 26th in preschool participation for 4-year-olds • 24th in preschool participation for 3-year-olds • 22nd in the typical age that children begin early childhood-education programs • 15th in teacher-to-child ratio in early … Read More

    Food for thought:

    From Center for American progress on OECD Report

    To put it plainly, the United States is getting beat when it comes to preschool. On almost every element, the United States ranks behind most of the other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD. We rank:
    • 26th in preschool participation for 4-year-olds
    • 24th in preschool participation for 3-year-olds
    • 22nd in the typical age that children begin early childhood-education programs
    • 15th in teacher-to-child ratio in early childhood-education programs
    • 21st in total investment in early childhood education relative to country wealth
    These rankings do not befit the United States. Given the importance of early childhood education to future student success, the United States must take these rankings seriously. We need to do better.

    From Children Now

    ◆ Texas and California have the highest percentages of young children who are low income and living in households without English speakers (12 and 13 percent, respectively).

    From EdWeek Quality Counts

    Family income matters a great deal when it comes to preschool enrollment, according to the report’s findings. Nationwide, children from wealthy families are enrolled in preschool at 1.5 times the rate of their peers from middle and low-income families.
    In California, 40.5 percent of families in poverty had enrolled their 3- or 4-year-old in preschool in 2013, compared to nearly 60 percent of families above the poverty line.

  8. el 2 years ago2 years ago

    Young families are also at a very vulnerable point financially, much more so than those of college aged children. I've mentioned before two other factors in the low income cutoff that I think are important, so I'll repeat them again. 1. Having programs open only to low income children further segregates them from their community, and misses the opportunities to build strong friendships that cross class lines that would strengthen the community and provide more opportunities to … Read More

    Young families are also at a very vulnerable point financially, much more so than those of college aged children.

    I’ve mentioned before two other factors in the low income cutoff that I think are important, so I’ll repeat them again.

    1. Having programs open only to low income children further segregates them from their community, and misses the opportunities to build strong friendships that cross class lines that would strengthen the community and provide more opportunities to kids and families on both sides of the line.

    2. In some communities, having these programs only open to low income kids means there is no program for middle and upper income kids, because there are not enough of them to sustain one. Again, this creates a stratification that is not desirable.

    The income requirements are well-meaning but I think ultimately somewhat more destructive than people in Sacramento imagine. I would instead encourage them to consider creating programs that are open to all but perhaps deploy them first in communities that are high need. Perhaps some mix of the two.

    Replies

    • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

      El, your points are thoughtful, well-considered and kindred in spirit if theoretical. With some local variation, in general the rich don't partake of preK-12 public education of any kind, and here in San Francisco in particular, middle class participation is weak and weakest at the pre-school level. "Crossing class lines" in this most liberal bastion gets a great deal of lip service but little real practice. If New York is a state of … Read More

      El, your points are thoughtful, well-considered and kindred in spirit if theoretical. With some local variation, in general the rich don’t partake of preK-12 public education of any kind, and here in San Francisco in particular, middle class participation is weak and weakest at the pre-school level. “Crossing class lines” in this most liberal bastion gets a great deal of lip service but little real practice. If New York is a state of mind, San Francisco is more of a split personality – one is a liberal persona and the other walks and, if not talks, its own best interests.

      The middle class bear the burden of point-of-service costs for health, education, housing and general welfare as well as taxes where social programs are otherwise free for the poor. The sum total of these costs can drive many in the middle class below the poverty line.

      I was surprised and pleased to see some acknowledgement here on Ed Source of the needs of the middle class. It does exist had anyone forgotten.

      • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

        Last I checked over 80% of sf children attend preschool (higher than national average). And that rate also applies to ethnic minorities, who prior to prop h (or whatever it was called) were well below that participation level.

        Generally speaking, pre-school participation in rural areas is lower than in urban ones. This makes the 2nd issue el is referring to more critical in some places than in others.

      • el 2 years ago2 years ago

        Thanks for the kind praise, Don. I would agree with you that the middle class can feel exceedingly squeezed in terms of all the expenses they have to pay. That is not to say it's better to be poor... I certainly prefer to exceed the FRL income level. The great thing about poverty is that anyone who thinks it's a great deal can easily enter that state and be eligible for all those wonderful programs. Quit … Read More

        Thanks for the kind praise, Don.

        I would agree with you that the middle class can feel exceedingly squeezed in terms of all the expenses they have to pay. That is not to say it’s better to be poor… I certainly prefer to exceed the FRL income level. The great thing about poverty is that anyone who thinks it’s a great deal can easily enter that state and be eligible for all those wonderful programs. Quit your job, give your stuff away, and you’re on easy street, eh? (All the better if you skip the step of a debilitating medical condition.)

        This stress that we place the middle class in is damaging though, damaging to their time and willingness to participate in community and damaging to their own time and patience in nurturing their own children. I’ve wondered many times if the miracle of Finland’s school system isn’t 6 weeks paid vacation and universal health care. Access to subsidies for preschool would be a big help.

        I’m not a stranger to budgets and harsh realities, but preschool is one of those things that might pencil out as paying for itself in increased economic activity and benefits, both short and long term.

        Your perspective is from San Francisco, and I appreciate hearing from those of you in that system what issues you encounter. Mine is rural northern California, so our situation is of course different. Setting rules and policies that work for all of us is certainly a challenge.

  9. Jim 2 years ago2 years ago

    You could easily pay for a college education with what you pay for childcare. Combine that with out of control healthcare costs. One of these needs to budge.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

      Solid research indicates that access to quality early childhood education results in higher college attendance and graduation, higher rates of big school graduation, lower incarceration rates, better health and longer life, etc. The same research indicates that every dollar spent on early care and education is a net gain for society in terms of dollars spent on those who don't graduate from high school, college, etc. Health care costs have stabilized and have actually risen at … Read More

      Solid research indicates that access to quality early childhood education results in higher college attendance and graduation, higher rates of big school graduation, lower incarceration rates, better health and longer life, etc. The same research indicates that every dollar spent on early care and education is a net gain for society in terms of dollars spent on those who don’t graduate from high school, college, etc.

      Health care costs have stabilized and have actually risen at a rate that is much slower than in times before passage and implementation of Obamacare.

      • el 2 years ago2 years ago

        I agree on the payoff for both, Gary. Families with young children often cannot make ends meet and do all those things, even knowing the value. You’ve got preschool at $12,000 a year, median family health insurance at $15,000 a year, add in rent, cars to get to work, and the occasional pack of ramen and even a two-income couple in their 20’s is going to wonder how to keep the bank balance positive.

        • Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

          Nio disagreement here, El. That's why I provided the "food for thought" post above. Of the 30+ nations the OECD typically deals with the US, by far the wealthiest nation on Earth, ranks 31st of 32 in the rate of children's poverty. CA, the wealthiest sate in the wealthiest nation, ranks #1 in percentage of people in poverty. Based on OECD numbers the US ranks in the 20s in providing early care and early childhood education. EdWeek … Read More

          Nio disagreement here, El.

          That’s why I provided the “food for thought” post above.

          Of the 30+ nations the OECD typically deals with the US, by far the wealthiest nation on Earth, ranks 31st of 32 in the rate of children’s poverty. CA, the wealthiest sate in the wealthiest nation, ranks #1 in percentage of people in poverty.

          Based on OECD numbers the US ranks in the 20s in providing early care and early childhood education. EdWeek gives CA a “D-” grade for child wellbeing.

          There is no good reason that the US, and CA, cannot provide the world’s best early care and early childhood education. There is no good reason that CA ranks near the bottom in funding for schools.

  10. Paul Muench 2 years ago2 years ago

    ““We have to start with the lowest-income children,” Friedman said.” I’d love to know more about what is behind this statement. What combination of economic, political, and ethical factors lead to this conclusion.

    Replies

    • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

      Probably because lower income families are generally much more likely to forgo preschool for cost reasons?

      • Paul Muench 2 years ago2 years ago

        I was considering an option like prop 30 where not every child is funded at the same level. Would we reach more children that way? At least until funding is available for all.

        • Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

          Paul;

          I believe you are referencing LCFF, not Prop 30.

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