The Golden State might spend more money on early childhood learning. Organizers say the proposal, while welcomed, needs to be more encompassing.
California’s new governor Gavin Newsom made a bold move in January to improve early childhood learning in the nation’s most-populous state, proposing investing more than $1.7 billion in everything from preschool to developmental screenings.
As eye-popping as the proposed investment is, though, it may not address pressing needs of all the state’s families, including working poor parents.
Newsom’s inaugural plan contains an additional $750 million to improve and expand access to full-day kindergarten, $125 million for more spots in state preschool classrooms, $500 million to expand subsidized child care facilities and support educators, and another $247 million for child care facilities at colleges.
On top of that, there would be new money for developmental screenings, home visiting – traditionally where nurses visit expecting and new parents in their homes – and other investments in preschool and areas of early learning.
The governor’s investments are welcome and needed, said Mary Ignatius, statewide organizer for California-based Parent Voices. But, the governor’s budget doesn’t address the broad spectrum of child care that families face, particularly families of color working in today’s 24/7 economy. The proposal, for example, has little, if any, new investments in the part of early education that working poor parents often rely on most, subsidies that offset the high cost of quality child care, she pointed out.
And while Newsom also advanced expanding paid parental leave, Ignatius asked about the time between infancy and preschool. An effective early learning strategy should look broadly at the needs of the whole family, she added. Instead, there appears to be a wide gap in the plan between the first six months of a child’s life and the beginning of preschool.
“To truly have the best outcomes for kids, we have to really think about it from that whole family lens,” Ignatius said. “It’s not necessarily going to expand child care subsidies for working poor families who need it now. We look forward to bringing those families into the conversation.”
The proposal also raises broader questions about the lens used in crafting policy solutions for families. Across the nation, past debates over child care and paid family leave have appeared, at times, dominated by thoughts and perspectives of higher-income families and academics. In California, home to more than 39.5 million people, there is an opportunity to ensure that families, who live with the problems this early education plan is trying to address, have a strong voice.
Newsom’s early learning proposal is only an opening gambit. Now, it is up to the California state Legislature to craft and pass legislation, with feedback from a range of organizations, including Parent Voices and lower-income families.
Paul Nyhan is the storytelling and partnership manager at Marguerite Casey Foundation. Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America. All original and contracted Equal Voice content – articles, photos and videos – can be reproduced for free, as long as proper credit and a link to our homepage are included.
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