In his final budget, Gov. Jerry Brown upheld promises made in previous years to fund early education initiatives, and added some new ones, but it still falls short of what many advocates have been pushing for his entire tenure in office.
The governor’s proposed budget, which he released Wednesday, increases child care provider reimbursement rates and adds additional preschool slots, while also adding new funding for home visiting and child care programs for children newborn to 5 years old.
Early childhood advocates applauded the new funding but maintained that spending on the state’s youngest learners is still well below what is needed to ensure quality child care and support for families, especially those with infants and toddlers.
“When it comes to early childhood the budget keeps commitments and doesn’t go backward but it doesn’t address the huge shortage for child care and preschool, ” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization based in Oakland.
“California’s priorities are still off and we should be giving a lot more,” Lempert said. Given that California is a high-tax state, it should be spending more, he said. “With strong state revenues, the first call on all new available dollars should go toward re-setting our priorities and putting kids first,” he said.
Throughout his governorship, Brown has been under pressure from child care advocates to provide funding for universal preschool for all low-income 4-year-olds, but Brown has resisted doing so, insisting that the state did not have the funds to do so, as he did yesterday.
“The accumulated demand or desire for very worthwhile programs is greater than the revenue structure, and the only answer to that is additional taxes,” Brown said Wednesday in response to a question about how universal preschool and other major programs proposed by leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates could be funded.
But Michael Cohen, Brown’s finance director, said the state’s funding for early education was now $1.2 billion more than it was at its low point during the Great Recession, effectively restoring the budget cuts that were made before Brown took office.
The budget includes $26.7 million in new funding for a voluntary home visiting pilot program through 2021 for young first-time parents in the CalWORKs, the state’s welfare program. The program will be modeled after other home visiting programs already operating in the state.
As part of home visiting programs, trained nurses, social workers and child development educators routinely visit families to help them learn parenting skills. This includes helping new mothers to understand nutrition or safe sleeping practices. One of the largest home visiting programs in the country is the Nurse Family Partnership program. The Nurse-Family Partnership program utilizes trained, registered nurses who work closely with families during pregnancy and up to age 2.
“The goal of the home visiting pilot is to help young families reach self-sufficiency by improving family engagement practices, supporting healthy development of young children living in poverty and preparing parents for employment,” the budget states.
A total of $158.5 million in one-time funding from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) will be reserved to cover the total cost of the pilot program until 2021, the budget states. TANF is a federal program but states can receive funding to design and implement their own programs.
Moira Kenney, executive director of the First 5 Association, a nonprofit that funds programs for California children newborn to 5 years old, said that by proposing funding for programs such as home visiting, “Gov. Brown is putting California’s money where its heart is — with children.” Kenney said while the budget acknowledges the importance of early learning and investing in the health and development of families, California still has significant needs. “Even with the additional supports outlined in today’s budget, our work on behalf of children and families is not done.”
The 2018-19 budget proposes a new program for children 5 and younger. The Inclusive Early Education Expansion Program will provide $125 million in state funding through Proposition 98 and an additional $42.2 million through a one-time federal grant to increase the availability of early education programs.
The budget states the program will prioritize low-income communities and those with limited access to child care and early education programs. Programs that receive this new funding must demonstrate that they support the education and development of all children, especially those with special needs, the budget states.
In addition, the state has approved pilot programs for 13 counties, the budget states. These counties will have more relaxed program requirements and flexibility to serve more families in child care programs. Specifically, it states programs can now accept online applications for child care subsidies to make the process easier for eligible families and providers.
The 2018-19 budget proposes a 2.8 percent increase in reimbursement rates for child care providers who contract directly with the California Department of Education. The new plan allots $47.7 million to provide increases for child care provider payments for the State Preschool Program and $34.2 million for other child care providers.
The budget also maintains funding to add 2,959 full-day state preschool slots. This is the final installment of three incremental increases in the number of preschool slots as part of a multi-year agreement, totaling 8,877 slots. The original budget plan outlined in 2016-17 proposed adding 2,959 slots every year beginning in April for three years.
“We’re pleased to see that the governor’s proposal honors the commitment made in the 16-17 budget to add full-day preschool slots and to raise provider reimbursement rates,” said Scott Hippert, chief executive officer for Child 360, previously LAUP, a nonprofit focused on early childhood education, advocacy and community engagement.
“There is a significant need to improve access to quality early learning, particularly for infants and toddlers,” Hippert said. “We look forward to working with the governor and members of the Legislature to create a budget that moves the needle even further to support our youngest learners.”