No money for accurate count of childcare needs

No money for accurate count of childcare needs

(Calif.) Legislative leaders have decided to delay at least another year efforts to restore a mere $8 million needed to provide an accurate count of the state’s unmet childcare and preschool needs.

Advocates for lower and middle income families have pressed lawmakers and the governor for much of the last year to return hundreds of millions of dollars slashed from the state budget since the recession for child welfare programs.

Although a plan has recently emerged to increase spending on childcare programs by $625 million above the governor’s May spending plan, there has been so far this session no active support to reestablish a critical data system for tracking waiting lists for preschool slots statewide.

Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, who chairs a budget subcommittee on education, said at a hearing on Tuesday that the data is needed and rebuilding the system for collecting it will be a priority next year, simply because there isn’t time this year to work through the details prior to budget negotiations.

“We don’t have data, but there’s no question there’s unmet need,” he said. “Hopefully for next year – and again, I think now on the record it is a priority – we will find out what it will cost us to go ahead and get the accurate figures for what we need.”

Beginning in 2007, the state’s fiscal crisis forced dramatic reductions for subsidized childcare, preschool and early development programs and eliminated some 100,000 slots for eligible families with children.

Although the state’s budget picture has brightened significantly, Gov. Jerry Brown’s spending plan for all state preschool and childcare programs has remained relatively flat the past two years and has proposed $1.8 billion in both federal and state support for the services in 2014-15.

As a result, legislators have been besieged by pleas from families, civil rights advocates and early childhood educators to restore funding to the programs due to the high numbers of working families who need help with childcare and preschool costs.

Officials operating programs through county offices of education have testified that there are likely “hundreds of thousands” of children waiting for a spot in either the CalWORKS childcare program for working families or one of several other smaller early childhood care and education programs.

But without sufficient data, legislators said they are at a loss when trying to determine what the actual need is.

At one time, the California Department of Education collected data gathered by county offices of education for a Centralized Eligibility List for the programs in question. That system, which cost the state about $8 million to run, was scrapped during the recession as the state, attempting to save care slots for children, cut many administrative activities to shore up finances.  

“The state does not have an up-to-date picture of what the waiting lists are across the various subsidized programs,” said Carolyn Chu, a representative of the Legislative Analyst’s Office who briefed the Senate committee on Brown’s current childcare proposals.

“The state eliminated the Centralized Eligibility List, which was how we knew how many folks out there were interested – what the demand was,” she said. “At the time the waiting list, I believe, was around 300,000 children. We don’t know, however, if that’s grown or shrunk over the course of the recession or not.”

Block and colleague Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Canada Flintridge, made it clear that reinstating the list would be a priority for them next Legislative session.

Meanwhile, Liu, who also chairs the Senate Education Committee, said she and fellow Democratic members of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus would soon unveil details of a plan to add $625 million to the childcare budget, creating slots for 40,000 more children.

The proposal, which the group had announced in a press conference earlier in the day, is to be included in the full Senate response to Brown’s budget sometime later this week.

In addition to spending $300 million on the 40,000 new slots, the CLWC plan would also:

  • Strengthen the quality of state-supported early care and education for 0-5 year-olds by investing $25 million in quality improvement, parent support, provider education and training and other needs.
  • Modernize providers’ reimbursements rates, which have been frozen since 2007, at a cost of approximately$300 million. The majority of early care and education providers are women. Without this increase, child care providers are less likely to sustain their businesses and will be forced to leave the field for higher paid positions, leaving California with a lack of providers
  • Begin to appropriate funding necessary to expand access to state preschool for the lowest income children first to ensure that all children are ready for kindergarten. Provide sufficient funding to ensure access for children of working parents with full-day programs.

“We are in the midst of an economic recovery, and we want to ensure that that recovery doesn’t leave women and children behind,” Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal, D- Long Beach and chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, said in a statement. “Early childhood education keeps California women working and children learning.”

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