SACRAMENTO — Despite hefty increases in child-care funding as part of welfare reform, a new study says the supply of centers and preschools is faltering – particularly in poor, Hispanic neighborhoods.
The study by Policy Analysis for California Education, a think tank based at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University, is set to be presented Friday to the Latino Legislative Caucus at a San Diego retreat.
The report outlines several “fundamental weaknesses” in California’s child care, which PACE calls “a decentralized ’non-system’ that, in parents’ eyes, is complicated and linked to welfare.”
“I think we all agree there are some major gaps in taking care of young children, whether in preschool, after-school and child care,” said state Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento.
She and other lawmakers at the retreat are working on proposals they will introduce when the Legislature returns in January for its full session. Gov. Davis will make his 2001 proposals then, also.
Child care was a particular focus during the 2000 session by the Women’s Legislative Caucus, which held up the budget to persuade Davis to approve $76 million in additional funding. It is also likely to be a major issue in 2001.
Child care lobbyist Patty Siegel said she hopes the women’s and Latino caucuses can combine next year to support more money to deliver child care to all the families who need it.
“There is no replacement for an infusion of funds. This is about big money now,” said Siegel, executive director of the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network.
Subsidized child care and preschools are crucial not only in welfare reform, as parents transition from benefits to jobs, but also in early education to prepare poor children for today’s high-stakes school world.
In 1997, the Legislature passed welfare reform, with the goal of limiting lifetime benefits to five years and moving recipients to jobs. Lawmakers created new child-care programs and boosted funding from less than $1 billion to this year’s total of more than $2.6 billion, including both welfare-related child care and preschools.
However, the PACE report said, the number of available child-care slots in centers and preschool programs per capita has not changed since 1996.
Furthermore, the number of child-care slots is three times greater in ZIP codes for affluent neighborhoods than for low-income areas, said PACE.
Capacity is particularly low in ZIP codes with high concentrations of low-income Latino families, the report says, adding the relationship is related more to economic and educational status than ethnicity.
PACE suggested improving efforts by county welfare officials to educate clients about availability of child-care vouchers and other options and expanding the many half-day programs that don’t help the working poor.
The report said lawmakers and other policy makers must figure out how to improve both equal access and quality so that poor children will gain school readiness and learning skills.
Ortiz, who has carried previous unsuccessful bills to create a state universal preschool plan, said the state’s child-care and preschool programs need to be combined into “a seamless system for these children.”
The Senate and Assembly welfare committees plan a hearing in January to discuss the child-care and preschool issue, she said.
Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Commerce, plans to introduce legislation in January to create a master plan for child care and to expand programs for underserved areas, her office said Thursday.
Siegel, whose organization represents 61 local agencies that help parents find child care, said the state currently is not providing enough money to subsidize child care for all low-income families who qualify.
State law says a family of four is eligible with an income up to 75 percent of the state median, or about $32,000. But the state only provides funds for families making little more than the minimum wage, or about $16,000 a year, she said.
That leaves about 200,000 children from eligible families on waiting lists around the state, she added.
“This is not about how to provide services cheaply, but the manner to best nurture and prepare young children to succeed in life and succeed in school,” Siegel said.