Capitol Alert

VIDEO: Flanked by kids, California senators seek more child care vouchers

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, announces a bill to expand child care as Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, looks on in Sacramento on Feb. 18, 2015.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, announces a bill to expand child care as Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, looks on in Sacramento on Feb. 18, 2015. The Sacramento Bee

Framing access to child care as a tool to alleviate poverty, California’s Senate leader on Wednesday previewed a budget battle in announcing legislation to increase child care vouchers and help caretakers unionize.

WATCH: Kids help lawmakers push for more child care funding.

“There are millions of working families facing impossible choices every single day,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said. He recounted how, when he was a child, his mother would choose between leaving him home alone or bringing him on long bus rides to the wealthy homes she cleaned for a living.

With California’s finances again stable, Democratic legislative leaders have turned their attention to California’s highest-in-the-nation poverty rate – a likely source of friction as they negotiate a budget with Gov. Jerry Brown.

They have pushed the governor to restore funding slashed during the recession, a time in which funding for child care programs dwindled by around $1 billion. Of the 90,000 or so child care slots lost during the recession, about 6,900 have been restored, according to the Department of Finance.

“We’re taking the first step to strengthen and reinvest in our child care system,” de León said at a rally that featured union members and children conducting singalongs.

Brown administration officials counter that the state has gradually upped funding for children’s services. The current budget contains an additional $257 million over the prior year for areas like child care and early childhood education. An early version of the proposed budget for next year would augment that with an additional $94 million.

“The fact that we have already committed more than a quarter of a billion dollars coming out of the recession to child care shows we are trying to rebuild it since the recession hit that program like so many others,” said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance.

Lawmakers have increasingly sought to address poverty with policies affecting the youngest Californians, from an emphasis last year on prekindergarten slots to calls for more publicly subsidized child care. The legislation de León and others promoted would increase the number of vouchers low-income parents can use to pay for child care. They have not yet decided the number or cost of additional vouchers. No bill has been introduced.

“Today we live in a state where around one-half of our children are poor or near-poor. Nearly one-half of our children. This is shameful,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who chairs the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. “Make no mistake about this,” she added. “Women are not sharing equally in our state’s recovery – women and children.”

The bill would also extend collective bargaining rights both to licensed caregivers, of which there are about 30,000 in California, and to license-exempt providers that can include family members and friends. Lawmakers said that would boost the prospects of child care workers who play a key role in kids’ early development.

“We’ve got to shore up the fundamentals of our early education system, and that means creating quality jobs, not poverty jobs, for child care workers who are overwhelmingly women and who are predominantly women of color,” Jackson said.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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