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California’s child care system faces deep cuts

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Deep spending cuts to California's child care system -- roughly 20 percent from the previous year -- would deny children of the working poor access to the kinds of programs that will prepare them for school, early education experts say.

Especially worrisome to those in the field are proposals to cut full-day programs run by state child development centers by 10 percent and maximum reimbursement rates by 26 percent or more for private child care providers, reducing parents' purchasing power.

"Are there providers around who will charge that rate? That is my question," said Nancy Remley, administrator of the California Department of Education's child development policy office. "And what kind of quality or basic health and safety do these providers offer that charge such low rates?"

Subsidized child care varies widely in form and quality, from a neighbor or relative receiving reimbursement to baby-sit a child to a top-notch child development center that provides health screenings, low child-to-staff ratios, curriculum and regular progress assessments.

It's those high-quality programs that have shown to pay off when a child enters kindergarten and progresses through the educational system -- and those same programs that appear to be most at risk of compromising their quality or closing altogether under the proposal.

If enacted, California would spend nearly $1 billion less on child care than it did in 2008, a reduction of about

35 percent.

"It's a kind of magical thinking: We ratchet up the standards for kindergarten while we are undermining the supports for actually achieving them," said Steve Barnett, who directs the National Institute for Early Education Research. "I think the rest of the country looks at California and wonders, 'How much more dysfunctional can it get?' "

The reduction in child care and preschool funding is being proposed in the context of a particularly tough budget climate. The state deficit is projected to have swelled to $15.7 billion; Gov. Jerry Brown aims to close it with a combination of tax hikes and program cuts.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance, noted that Brown's revised budget proposal for May did lessen the number of families who would lose their eligibility for assistance.

In January, the governor proposed changes that would have resulted in the loss of more than 60,000 slots, including low-income college students. That estimate is now 29,600 -- roughly 9 percent of those who received some form of state-subsidized child care during the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Still, some say that number could prove to be much higher if families are turned away as a result of reduced subsidies and if more centers go out of business. As of last year, the waiting list for child care already had 193,000 names, according to the state Department of Education.

Today, a single, working mother with one child is only eligible for a state subsidy if she makes $39,396 or less per year. Under the proposal, those annual wages would need to be below $30,260 -- twice the federal poverty threshold.

Latifa Lewis, a Hayward resident and administrative assistant, says right now she doesn't need to worry about her daughters while she's at work. She knows they're in good hands and developing their vocabulary and social skills at a private day care center in Oakland. Her oldest child, Kamil, enters kindergarten this fall.

"She's super excited. She's ready to be a big girl," Lewis said. "I think her love of education came from being in a good-quality child care."

Lewis says she pays about $300 a month for her two children, and that her subsidy covers the remaining $1,400. But if the Legislature adopts the new income eligibility requirements, she said, she will have no choice but to turn to family members.

"My kid would probably be bounced around -- 'Who can watch her today?' " Lewis said. "I don't know what else I would do. If I quit my job, then we become homeless."

Melissa Lanoie, a facilities management assistant from San Jose, finds herself in a similar predicament -- but without family nearby. Her father, who used to watch her son after school while she was working, died last year.

"I don't have a lot of family support, so I fly solo on everything," she said.

The governor's revised proposal would no longer cut funding from the state's part-time state preschool, a bright spot for families who take advantage of the program. But for many working parents, that isn't an option, said Kathy Lafferty, director of the Cambridge Child Development Center in Concord.

"In a way, it discriminates against low-income people who work," Lafferty said.

Also concerning to those in the field is the governor's proposal to shift full-day child care and preschool programs from the California Department of Education to county social service agencies. Beginning in 2013-14 (or possibly as early as July), local welfare departments would administer the programs.

Because local social service agencies already operate welfare-to-work programs, the plan was primarily designed to streamline services for families, Palmer said. Still, some on both sides question the need for such a move, saying it would lead to educational inequities from county to county and strain an already-taxed social service system.

"That's not our business," said Denise Boland, a CalWORKS administrator for Santa Clara County's Social Services Agency. While social service workers would do their best to learn the ins and outs of administering contracts with child care centers, she said, "We think they're appropriately seated with the Department of Education."

The governor's January proposal would have made a wholesale move to a voucher system, putting an end to the more than 60-year-old network of state-contracted childhood development centers. The latest trailer bill language, by contrast, requires county social service departments to keep funding at least some of those centers on a contract basis through mid-2016.

Still, Remley said she wonders if, five years from now, any of those centers -- which grew out of a federal effort during World War II to support working mothers -- would be left. "In a time when there's unemployment, when we're struggling in our schools to provide an education, this doesn't make sense," she said.

Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at Follow her at

  • Child care programs (not including the first stage of CalWORKS) would be cut by about $400 million, or 20 percent, from the year before. With those cuts, California would spend about $1.6 billion on child care -- 35 percent less than in 2008.
  • State-contracted child development centers receive $34.38 a day for each child. That rate would be cut by 10 percent.
  • The state would lower its maximum reimbursement rate for private child care providers by at least 26 percent.
  • County social services agencies, rather than the state's Education Department, would administer all of the full-day child care and preschool programs through block grants. The part-day state preschool program would remain under the state education department.

    Source: California Child Care
    Resource Referral Network


    Estimated number of children who would lose state-subsidized child care under the governor's May proposal:
    Alameda County: 1,730
    Contra Costa County: 185
    San Francisco County: 3,207
    Santa Clara County: 1,291
    California: 29,600

    Source: local child care councils

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    One Response to California’s child care system faces deep cuts

    • capri says:

      If you are a provider for Accsess child care, becareful. Accsess and welfare to work are scamming people. They are trying to burn me out of wages from 1-14-13 to 3-30-13 . Filed a state hearing

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