Credit: Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education
A preschool girl threading beads.

As public servants and mothers whose life work is dedicated to maximizing the potential in all children from birth through young adulthood, we stand together as partners in an effort to transform how we provide every infant, toddler and preschooler a successful start that carries them through school and life.

We know the research is crystal clear about early learning and care. Providing high-quality care and education that develops the learning potential of young children from their very start is critical to their future and the state’s.

Children are born ready to learn. The early years of life provide the biggest learning opportunities for children and lay the foundation for their future success. During the first five years of life, a child’s brain develops rapidly through minute-by-minute interactions with loving parents, siblings, caregivers and educators in environments that offer opportunities to explore.

We know that access to quality early learning and care has been proven to have especially beneficial, multigenerational effects for children who are experiencing poverty, adverse life conditions and systemic racism. They have better educational outcomes and long-term gains in employment, income, health and family life.

When children have access to quality care and learning, parents also have the ability to seek more education, participate in the workforce, earn more and invest more in their children.

Covid-19 has shown how important early learning and care is to the state’s overall economic recovery, yet our system is under great strain. Many providers have closed, others struggle to stay open and parents, especially those who are low-income essential workers, have difficulty finding early learning and care for their children.

Prioritizing the needs of young children and the early childhood workforce will help California build back a better system and a stronger future.

It is time for California to build a comprehensive, birth-to-age-five early learning and care system that seamlessly integrates the physical, intellectual and social and emotional development of all infants, toddlers and preschoolers with a continuum of care and learning that continues through kindergarten to post-secondary education. It must be available to all families and children, but it can’t be one-size-fits-all in a diverse state with diverse needs.

How to get there has been the challenge. This month’s release of the Master Plan for Early Learning and Care: California For All Kids helps get us closer to this goal.

It builds upon the past work of the Assembly Blue Ribbon Commission as well as input from the recently formed Early Childhood Policy Council, comprised of diverse stakeholders from across the state. It also acknowledges the important work that the California Department of Education has undertaken through the leadership of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond who has focused on quality early learning and care that promotes inclusive practices and supports bilingualism.

The Plan starts by helping us all understand what is needed to provide immediate relief to families, children and the early learning workforce in the wake of the pandemic — and finishes by offering a research-based roadmap for building a comprehensive, equitable early learning and care system over the next decade.

Recommendations include:

  • Unifying programs for infants and toddlers are under the Child Care and Development Division of the Department of Social Services to help the state assess its child development services through an equity lens focused on better and more consistent outcomes for all young children.
  • Streamlining eligibility requirements across programs, services and benefits to increase access for those most in need.
  • Improving California’s landmark Paid Family Leave so more low-income families can choose to spend more time with their newborns.
  • Providing all 4-year-olds access to universal preschool, while income-eligible 3-year-olds and those with disabilities would have access to two years of preschool.
  • Supporting stronger training for caregivers and teachers in the early learning workforce, along with opportunities for greater compensation and career advancement.
  • Strengthening quality standards and technical assistance to programs so that they serve all children well in culturally and linguistically responsive settings.
  • Prohibiting the suspension and expulsion of any child in state-subsidized early learning and care programs so that children are not deprived of opportunities to learn.
  • Better supporting the needs of dual language learners to give them greater opportunities to succeed.

The system would develop, nurture and sustain early learning professionals. Multiple pathways to affordable professional development would lead to permits and credentials. It would acknowledge and respect the diverse, mixed delivery system that we currently have, which includes care provided by in-home and center-based providers and educators.

Rate reform with tiered reimbursement tied to quality, service and location would help ensure that each child has access to caring adults who provide engaging learning environments.

In short, the Master Plan provides a bold, 10-year vision to help our state build back a better early learning and care system. Auspiciously, there is strong alignment between President-elect Biden’s ambitious early learning proposals and the Plan. The state will be able to invest its resources purposefully over the coming years in partnership with a federal government focused on children’s healthy development and success.

Going forward the administration and Legislature working with stakeholders will come together to decide what are the appropriate initial steps to meet California’s long-term goals of universal preschool and improving child care access, quality and affordability. We hope you will join us on this important journey.

•••

Linda Darling-Hammond is president of the State Board of Education. Kim Johnson is the director of the California Department of Social Services.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. Commentaries published on EdSource represent diverse viewpoints about California’s public education systems. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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  1. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 5 months ago5 months ago

    Why does this declaration of good intentions feel like deja-vu all over again? I know I'm not imagining things: this is my 50th year living in California, reading again about fundamental improvements planned for our public schools, about what the youngest children need to "succeed." Once again we're looking to "build better stronger" for what have been chronically underfunded pre-school programs, but now in pandemic-ravaged federal and state economies. It feels like pro forma … Read More

    Why does this declaration of good intentions feel like deja-vu all over again? I know I’m not imagining things: this is my 50th year living in California, reading again about fundamental improvements planned for our public schools, about what the youngest children need to “succeed.” Once again we’re looking to “build better stronger” for what have been chronically underfunded pre-school programs, but now in pandemic-ravaged federal and state economies. It feels like pro forma talk to me.