In an effort to remove obstacles for Californians trying to succeed in the labor market, a new law could make access to child care easier for low-income parents taking classes to learn English or complete high school.
The law will expand the eligibility requirements for subsidized child care. It will make low-income parents who are are enrolled in English as a second language classes (ESL) or a program to earn a high school diploma or general education development certificate (GED) eligible to place their children in subsidized care.
Although in the past some parents taking ESL classes were considered eligible for subsidized care, it was not specifically listed as a factor for eligibility.
Under existing law, low-income families who met the income criteria and who were participating in vocational training could qualify for state child care services. Vocational training, also referred to as career technical education, provides workforce training that leads directly into professional fields such as health care or office management. However the law did not clearly spell out what courses qualified as vocational training, advocates said.
The new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last month, addresses a major obstacle that parents, especially those who are low-income, face — how to find or pay for child care while they try to improve the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. Kristen Schumacher, a policy analyst with the California Budget and Policy Center, said including ESL and GED classes in the eligibility criteria for child care is “a common sense change that could help many parents overcome barriers to employment and self-sufficiency.”
The change in the law was necessary to ensure that all child care centers were interpreting eligibility the same way, said Jennifer Greppi, an advocate with Parent Voices, a nonprofit that advocates for child care policies. Some child care centers accepted English as a second language classes as a type of vocational training, while others did not, she said. This meant that some parents were deemed ineligible for subsidized care, she added.
“The purpose of the new law is to make sure everyone is on the same page so it doesn’t matter what agency (child care center) you go to, this is the rule for everyone,” she said.
Assembly Bill 273 will take effect Jan.1, 2018. The provision was co-sponsored by the Women’s Policy Institute/Women’s Foundation of California and Parent Voices. It was authored by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters.
The new law applies to subsidized child care and preschool programs funded through the California Department of Education, including the California State Preschool Program and the migrant child care program.
To make sure child care agencies and programs are aware of the new law, the Department of Education will release a bulletin that explains the new provisions under AB 273 and provides guidance to child care centers to ensure written information is available to parents, said Jonathan Mendick, a spokesman for the department.
According to the California Budget and Policy Center, in comparison to other states, California has one of the highest percentages of adults who speak limited English and also one of the lowest percentages of adults with a high school diploma. Specifically, it states that 1.6 million low-income children in California have parents who speak limited English and/or do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent, such as a GED. “This is concerning because parents’ English-language proficiency and educational achievement are critical pathways to family economic security and improving children’s well-being,” it states.
In a recent report by the Migration Policy Institute, titled “Dual Language Learners: A Demographic and Policy Profile for California,” researchers highlighted gaps in the education and income of parents of dual language learners and non-dual language learners. The report defines dual language learners as children 8 and younger with at least one parent who speaks a language other than English at home. Among parents of dual language learners, researchers found that 29 percent have less than a high school education compared to 5 percent for parents of non-dual language learners.
Still, the new law does not add any additional child care slots for low-income families or guarantee that families who are taking English as a second language classes or high school equivalency courses will receive state subsidized child care. Greppi said the intent of the law is not to say, “If you take ESL you will get child care,” but rather that if there is a spot available, parents who are taking those classes now have a qualifying need.
Greppi said there isn’t a precise count of families who were turned away previously, but she estimates that at least a few thousand parents will benefit from child care services now that the law has been clarified. The law creates an additional avenue for low-income families to access the child care they need to complete their education and earn higher incomes, she said.
The impact also goes beyond increasing family income. Greppi said it will help families in other practical ways, such as parents who become fluent in English being better able to navigate the range of services provided by any number of agencies. “We really see this as two-generational learning,” Greppi said. “Unlocking the opportunity for the child’s growing and learning but also for the parents to grow their ability to get better jobs and be better able to navigate systems, social services, K-12 and health.”