No state was sorrier than California during the recession, when cash-strapped state lawmakers had to slash more than $1 billion in child care services. We’re a compassionate state, and it hurt, seeing families suffer. So you’d think that now that the economy has rebounded, that billion would be restored.
Though state lawmakers still talk a great game when it comes to caring about families, child care funding lags prerecession levels by more than $800 million. And though the legislative women’s caucus has asked for that money to be put back, the response so far has been pathetic.
This month, Gov. Jerry Brown suggested that the subsidized child care system be rethought and reconstituted with vouchers and block grants. Then last week, a Senate budget subcommittee offered a grudging bump of just $99 million.
We get the need to be fiscally prudent, but really? Maybe these people haven’t spent time around children lately. Otherwise they’d know that, just as one diaper won’t do when a baby uses eight daily, $80 worth of babysitting isn’t gettable for ten bucks.
Just as one diaper won’t do when a child needs eight daily, the Senate’s opening bid for child care – less than $100 million – doesn’t come close to meeting the state’s $800 million shortfall.
Brown has a point about the complexity and expense of the existing system. And he is right to want to keep spending from running amok.
But as Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon has pointed out, children aren’t just any line item. They’re the single most important priority for millions of households. The days when one parent can afford not to work outside the home are over, and quality child care can mean the difference between a kid who flourishes in school or flunks out as an adolescent, between an employee who is fully present in the workplace and one wracked for eight hours a day with worry.
That worry is bipartisan. Republican Sen. Janet Nguyen and Assemblywomen Marie Waldron, Kristin Olsen, Catharine Baker, and Ling-Ling Chang have joined 19 Democratic female legislators (and at least two men – Assemblymen Mike Gatto and Marc Levine) in asking Brown to restore that $800 million.
State lawmakers should take another look at this funding. Nothing – no pothole, no pay raise, no prison – is more important than the first years of a child’s life.