The budget signed Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown includes $265 million in additional funding for our state’s child care and preschool programs.
This investment, a top priority for the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, represents a step forward for a state that cut early care and education to the bone during the recession.
Over the past two years, the women’s caucus has helped restore more than $500 million into these programs, reinstating child care and preschool for more than 45,000 children.
Even as we are making progress, it is remarkable how far we still have to go. When policymakers mention states doing groundbreaking early childhood education work, Oklahoma and Georgia are often lauded. California may be the world’s seventh-largest economy, but we are serving less than a quarter of all eligible children through state-supported child care.
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We may be known as the home of technological innovation, but we fail to meet the needs of all our youngest learners. We are a state of great wealth, and yet we have the highest child poverty rate in the country. The women’s caucus, legislators and advocates wage a yearly battle just to recoup funding lost during the downturn.
While preschool funding is rebounding, support for child care continues to lag.
Even with this year’s additional money and record increases in Proposition 98 funding, the state will be offering 50,000 fewer child care slots than in 2008-09. Even before the recession hit, California had approximately 200,000 children on waiting lists. Now, that need is estimated at close to 300,000.
We are even farther from achieving an efficient, innovative early care and learning system truly worthy of the forward-thinking state we strive to be. Cutting-edge research shows that our children’s youngest years are a critical time for growth and language development, and that learning begins at birth.
It is time to put California at the forefront of early care and learning.
We believe there is no better or more effective investment in our future. It makes sense for our economy. When parents cannot find or afford child care, the economy loses out on valued workers. Parents risk piecing together care that does not meet a child’s needs, or being forced out of the job market. Children, our future workforce, miss opportunities to learn.
Providing quality early care and education will help prevent costly academic interventions later on. Child care is education and is a powerful tool for closing the achievement gap.
Studies show that very young children from low-income families learn 30 percent fewer words than those from more privileged backgrounds. By two years of age, these children can be six months behind in language development. These gaps persist; children who start behind tend to stay behind.
Any kindergarten teacher can identify students who have not had quality early education, and will tell you how much more effective it is to teach to a child who is prepared to learn. It is time for child care and early education to be an integral part of our education system.
California has more than 3 million children – more than any other state. As early care and education become an increasing part of the national policy discussion, let’s put California at the forefront.
Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat, is chairwoman of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus and represents the 19th Senate District. Cristina Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat, is vice chairwoman of the caucus and represents the 58th Assembly District.