Soapbox

Debate over funding child care is a trap

Saryah Mitchell, 4, sits with her mother, Teisa Gay, left, at a May 6 rally at the Capitol calling for increased child care subsidies.
Saryah Mitchell, 4, sits with her mother, Teisa Gay, left, at a May 6 rally at the Capitol calling for increased child care subsidies. Associated Press

As an educator, a parent, and someone who wants to see the next generation given every tool possible to succeed, I support the proposed expansion of child care programs. The earlier we prepare children for the classroom, the stronger their foundation for learning will be.

Of course, expanding child care programs costs money. Fortunately, California voters decided in 2012 to support a progressive tax measure, Proposition 30, which puts our state in a stronger position to support our youngest children while continuing to restore funding for public education.

The current debate in the Legislature about where to secure additional child care money – as part of Proposition 98 or funded separately – is a trap we should avoid. While Proposition 98 has become the cornerstone for funding K-14 public schools, it is reasonable that early childhood programs be folded in as well, as they used to be.

It is understandable why we in the education community get so protective of Proposition 98. While Proposition 30 has put us on the road to recovery, the dual impact of Proposition 13’s restrictions on property taxes and the recent recession put California’s schools near the bottom of the nation in per-pupil spending, average class size and many other key indicators. Even with the additional funding coming from Proposition 30, California is a long way from adequacy in what we spend for public education.

But rather than fight our natural allies over where child care funding should come from, it is imperative we find additional revenue. That means that if early childhood education is included within Proposition 98, the Legislature should guarantee additional money so we are not pitting one part of the education community against the other.

The Legislature and the governor have the means to resolve this dispute by moving to enact a Proposition 30-like tax measure that would continue to restore funding to education and programs for the state’s most at-risk communities. Also, closing corporate property tax loopholes under Proposition 13 could provide as much as $9 billion yearly to the state. These measures would allow us to fund child care and expand college opportunities for young people, and would directly address the growing crisis of economic inequality that has become so pervasive in our state.

As we prepare to ask California voters to continue to support progressive tax reform, including changes to Proposition 13, the education community would be well-served to strengthen our relationships with our allies and think broadly about how public education and vital social services are funded. Bolstering funding for child care services represents an opportunity to provide a responsible human and budgetary foundation for California’s future.

Joshua Pechthalt is president of the California Federation of Teachers.

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