Early leaners, child care set to become focus of budget talks

Early leaners, child care set to become focus of budget talks

(Calif.) In what is likely to emerge as one of the major education budget issues this session, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, announced Wednesday the launch of a campaign aimed at improving services to early learners, especially those in low-income neighborhoods.

To start, the Speaker has convened a blue ribbon panel made up of lawmakers, child development experts, parents and school officials.

The group–which will be co-chaired by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, and Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento–has been asked to look for “more sustainable” early learning systems and update the existing funding vehicle. The findings or recommendations from the panel, Rendon said, would help guide Assembly Democrats forward on budget and policy decisions this summer.

“Our successful future is built on a tiny foundation,” Rendon said in a statement. “Our youngest children are learning even before they start school and that learning is the basis of their entire educational success. Their success is our success.”

Although Rendon said the impetus for the panel came out of last year’s negotiations over the state budget, it should not be overlooked that the governor’s January spending plan proposed freezing funding for child care and early learning programs despite an agreement with the Legislature to add money in 2017-18.

In content post by the Speaker’s office announcing the blue ribbon panel, Rendon alluded to a potential budget battle over funding for early learners.

“During the Great Recession, the budget for early learning was severely cut along with many other state programs,” the Speakers office said. “Despite recent investments, the existing system has struggled to stay afloat. Members fight hard every year to win additional dollars for children because they knew the benefits of access to quality early experiences for children.”

But Gov. Jerry Brown’s rational for the freeze–like his plan to trim K-12 spending overall–is that tax collections during the first half of the fiscal year didn’t keep up with projections.

Brown’s cautious forecast prompted him to reduce the proposed Proposition 98 guarantee for 2017-18 by $900 million from what had been expected in a November forecast from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s office.

In a review of the governor’s January plan, the LAO confirmed it’s higher revenue projection, and suggested that the governor would likely need to adjust upward what schools will get next year in his revised budget plan that comes out in May.

If so, no doubt Rendon will lay claim to some of those additional dollars to restore the increases agreed upon for early learning and child care programs.

In terms of restructuring programs, both the Speaker and the governor agree that the existing system is cumbersome and out of date.

Brown said in his January budget that eligibility rules vary between the nine major programs providing child care and early learning services. He proposed a number of changes aimed at making it easier for families to access care and easier for providers to administer:

  • Authorize the use of electronic applications for child care subsidies, making it less burdensome for eligible families to access care and more efficient for providers to process applications;
  • Allow children with exceptional needs whose families exceed income eligibility guidelines access to part‑day state preschool if all other eligible children have been served. This allows part‑day state preschool providers the flexibility to fill unused slots with other students who would benefit from early intervention or education;
  • Align the state’s definition of homelessness with the federal McKinney‑Vento Act for purposes of child care eligibility. Many providers receive both federal and state funds, and different definitions of homelessness can be confusing;
  • Eliminate licensing requirements for state preschool programs utilizing facilities that meet transitional kindergarten facility standards, specifically K‑12 public school buildings;
  • Allow state preschool programs flexibility in meeting minimum adult‑to‑student ratios and teacher education requirements, allowing for alignment with similar transitional kindergarten requirements; and
  • Simplify the process by which school districts can align program minutes for state preschool and transitional kindergarten students.