Family needs go well beyond universal preschool
By Charles Crosby
While the recent proposed governor’s budget was encouraging in its clear commitment to early education, there is a growing concern that that commitment is disproportionately set into a narrow band, which could cause negative effects in our effort to build back in a post COVID economy.
The proposed budget largely maintains early learning and childcare programs, with support for the children of income-eligible essential workers at the heart of the funding. In addition to existing base funding for early education, the budget also included 100 million for childcare providers extending care to essential workers, and 15 million to help with the costs of re-opening.
While the proposed budget has a few additions addressing the COVID-19 crisis, the earmarked funds do not cover the additional financial impacts on childcare agencies. With proposed funding, we tread cautiously into 2021 as the budget is extremely limited on new funding for early care and education programs. What we have seen is a major commitment to universal preschool – $500 million – but promises little immediate relief for parents and providers looking for support and direction on how the state will address childcare needs beyond preschool and transitional kindergarten.
With a single-minded focus on universal preschool, this budget and broader state direction gives short shrift to those families who need care well beyond school hours, or outside the narrower parameters provided in this purely school-based programming (for example, what will families with children in preschool do on non-school and vacation days?) It also actually foretells a cut to childcare slot access ranging between 8,682 to 15,563, statewide. Proposed funding for all childcare programs actually fell to 2.37 percent of the state budget. With any discussion centered around universal preschool, the childcare industry should, at a minimum, be part of that conversation with an eye toward reviewing as-yet unanswered questions around teaching credentials, and investments in facilities and staff.
We would ask that any budget considerations for child and youth development take into account the needs of all families and support much-needed childcare needs across California. Families in need of before and after school care, infant care, and those who may not choose the voluntary paths of TK or preschool have care needs that go well beyond the parameters offered in those programs. While preschool can be an important part of early education it is far from the only part.
A full-scale recovery as we pivot from the COVID-wrecked economy will only be possible with a robust and properly funded childcare industry in communities across California. It’s critical, now more than ever, that we consider the needs of all families struggling with their childcare needs. Only with this macro focus will we be able to grow and truly build back.