By Kimberly Beltran | SI&A Cabinet Report | http://bit.ly/S9mIQI
Wednesday, October 17, 2012 :: Reeling from $1 billion in cuts the past four years, California’s early learning and child care system is able to maintain only the most basic services today as advocates look for hope out of the November election and signs that an economic upswing has taken hold.
“We’re at a tipping point. If you cut it anymore, we’re done. I don’t think there will be an infrastructure for you to build on,” Mike Olenick, chief executive officer of the Child Care Resource Center, told a legislative panel convened last week to evaluate the status of the state’s child care system.
Some 27,000 young children lost their spot in child care or preschool as a result of the 2012-13 budget agreement, bringing to 110,000 the total number of spaces eliminated since 2008-09.
Additional cuts to the state’s Child Care and Development system – totaling $185 million – included an 8.7 percent across-the-board reduction to almost all programs and an 18 percent cut in the Alternative Payment, or voucher, Program.
And funding for nutritional programs for some private child care centers and homes was reduced by another $10 million, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
The cuts come even as the state invests in high profile early learning programs that have shown promise for helping to close the achievement gap, reduce dropout rates and limit the number of individuals who end up in the state’s criminal justice system.
Among those programs is the new transitional kindergarten program as well as the federal Race to the Top grant for early literacy.
But even if voters approved new taxes in November and tax collections begin to rebound during the second half of the fiscal year – there’s no current plan for rolling back the cuts to the child care programs.
However, the Assembly Select Committee on Early Childhood Education plans to meet again Nov. 9 to take another look at ways the state may be able to help.
“There is quite a shift taking place across the nation in terms of understanding the importance of early childhood care and education,” said Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, committee chair, at the Oct. 5 hearing. “It’s a shift away from the notion of providing just babysitting…there’s so many things that could be happening in those early years that can help with our outcomes.”
Olenick’s agency, which provides resources for families and early childhood educators and caregivers, is among hundreds statewide that have been impacted by the budget cuts and forced to reduce or consolidate services.
Agencies like his have taken to collaborating with other youth-focused entities, whether government, private or non-profit, to try to bridge the gaps created by the cuts.
Reductions to programs that subsidize child care and preschool costs have led to the closure of both family and corporate centers up and down the state because parents can’t afford the additional costs, numerous panelists testified.
Clarissa Doutherd, a parent advocate for the Oakland Chapter of Parent Voices, said that a preschool subsidy she received for her son through the CalWORKs program afforded her the opportunity to take a part-time bookkeeping job that over a four-year time period evolved into full-time.
But the 2012-13 cuts eliminated her subsidy and, with no other child care options, she was forced to quit her job.
“It’s not OK for our state’s budget problems to destabilize working families and compromise the academic success of our children. We work so hard so that they can have a better future and not become a statistic,” Doutherd told the panel.
Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said, however, that while most of her colleagues in the Legislature agree about the ‘moral and human value’ of the roll of early care education, the debate always comes down to money and responsibility.
Prompting the panelists, Mitchell asked, “What would you say to those who ask who’s responsible?”
Kate Ertz-Berger, executive director of the Contra Costa Child Care Council, said that, for her, the answer is simple.
“I do see it as a societal responsibility,” Ertz-Berger said. “Certainly, families should be required to pay what they are able to pay, but there are 46 million people living in poverty in this country. There are a whole lot of folks who can’t afford to pay for virtually anything.
“These young people, who are now 4, 5, 6 years old, are going to be in charge of this world when we’re older and we’re relying on the younger generation to make sure chaos doesn’t ensue. So I do see it as a collective responsibility because we all reap the collective benefits,” she said.