Capitol Alert

Legislative Democrats propose broad expansion of child care

Youngsters enjoy the sunny playroom at Sutter Children’s Center in Sacramento. Legislative Democrats have proposed an expansion of state-funded child care.
Youngsters enjoy the sunny playroom at Sutter Children’s Center in Sacramento. Legislative Democrats have proposed an expansion of state-funded child care. apayne@sacbee.com

Legislative Democrats put forward separate approaches this week to significantly increase spending on child care programs, amid wariness by influential school groups and hostility from the Brown administration.

An Assembly plan approved by a budget subcommittee Thursday would add 20,500 childcare slots beginning in March 2016 at a cost of $605 million in 2015-16, growing to $975.7 million in subsequent years. About one-quarter of the childcare expansion money would be covered by California’s constitutional school-funding guarantee, known as Proposition 98, with the rest of the money coming from other parts of the General Fund.

The Senate proposal would add 17,500 childcare slots, at a cost of $330 million. About $280 million would come from Proposition 98, and $50 million from the general fund.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, the chairman of the Senate budget panel, said the Senate plan recognizes the importance of early childhood education and rightfully puts it under the state’s school-guarantee umbrella.

“What we’re proposing here is to find a way to benefit all children from day 1, while at the same time preparing them for the classroom and attending to the achievement gap before it begins to grow,” Leno told colleagues Friday.

Schools and community colleges would receive a significant increase in funding this year and in 2015-16 under Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget plan. The Proposition 98 guarantee, moreover, absorbs virtually all of the $6.7 billion in higher-than-expected revenue since the governor’s January proposal.

School officials have said the money is vital to recover from cuts during the recession. Friday, the president of the California Teachers Association said the influential 325,000-member union strongly opposes the Senate plan.

“It’s being framed as if K-12 is sitting on all this money and so it’s got some to spare. That’s really an inaccurate portrayal,” union president Dean Vogel said, adding that the union believes child care is important. “But are we going to be taking more away from 5-year-olds to give to 3-year-olds?”

Added Dennis Meyers of the California School Boards Association, “It will become a competition between a faster-growing childcare system and K-12.”

Brown has rebuffed calls to significantly expand child care and other programs, warning that state revenue could quickly fall. A top aide Friday echoed that sentiment and warned that the administration opposes any “manipulating” of the Proposition 98 guarantee to include childcare programs.

“We continue to be concerned by the commitment of ongoing resources that the state cannot support over the long term,” Keely Bosler, the deputy director of Brown’s Department of Finance, told the Senate budget panel Friday.

Both proposals would allow family child care providers to unionize. “Unless we increase access to affordable child care and empower the childcare workforce, the American Dream will remain out of reach for too many California families,” Laphonza Butler, president of SEIU California, a union pushing the proposal, said in a statement.

Both plans reflect rosier revenue estimates by the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal adviser. The Legislative Analyst’s Office projects that the state will collect $3 billion more in revenue during the next budget year than the governor’s plan estimates.

Lawmakers will reconcile differences between the child care proposals and other plans during a joint legislative budget-writing panel as the June 15 deadline approaches, while negotiations with Brown continue.

“It’s the initial salvo,” said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who leads the Legislative Women’s Caucus, a strong supporter of child care expansion.

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