LAUSD, Board of Supervisors Candidates Lay Out Plans For Early Childhood Programs

Two children in a pre-school class at Young Horizons play with blocks while wearing facemasks. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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Candidates for two local races generally agree that L.A. County's child care system is stressed and there needs to be further investment to support families and the workforce.

The competitors for the seats on the L.A. Unified School District board and the County Board of Supervisors discussed their views on early childhood programs at a virtual forum on Wednesday — and there wasn't much difference in their support for creating new funding streams and making child care more accessible.

But it still remains to be seen how the victors in the Nov. 3 election will carve out those new funding streams. The county's recent budget contended with a $935 million tax revenue shortfall and the future of LAUSD's funding during the pandemic is uncertain.

The forum, put on by the LA Partnership for Early Childhood Investment, Southern California Grantmakers and Unite-LA, included Board of Supervisors candidates State Senator Holly Mitchell and L.A. City Council member Herb Wesson, who are vying to represent the county's District 2, which includes the L.A. neighborhoods of Crenshaw, Koreatown and Mar Vista and the cities of Inglewood, Compton and Culver City; and Patricia Castellanos and Tanya Ortiz Franklin, running for LAUSD's Seat 7, which represents neighborhoods in South L.A. and includes Watts, Gardena and Carson.

We've highlighted a few key moments from the forum. You can watch the full two-hour event here.

Candidate answers have been edited for length and clarity.

ON WORKING WITH THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY TO ENSURE CHILD CARE IS INCLUDED IN ECONOMIC RECOVERY EFFORTS

State Senator Holly Mitchell's election night watch party just after early results reported Mitchell ahead the evening of California's 2020 primary elections on March 3, 2020. (Annie Lesser for LAist)

Mitchell, who worked for the child care non-profit Crystal Stairs before running for State Assembly, highlighted the fact that Los Angeles County was already losing child care slots before the pandemic.

"I'm hoping that the federal government will acknowledge the role they must play to help local government, state and municipalities recover," Mitchell, who now represents California's 30th state Senate district, said.

She said that child care is not only a service in the community, but a job creator.

NPR reported hundreds of thousands of U.S. child care workers, more than 1 out of 5 overall, have lost their jobs since February. There's an example of that locally. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board voted to lay off dozens of early educators ahead of a predicted drop in enrollment this school year.

Mitchell said she's been working with various business associations to support child care.

"The issue will be when we are thrust into yet another horrific recession, that we all don't retreat to our corners and forget about the collaboration that we've been able to build in good times," Mitchell said. "So it will be up to ... those of us in government and the industry itself, to continue to reach out to remind the business community that these are important investments that their workers and employees cannot bring their full selves to work if they don't have reliable, affordable, safe childcare for their children."

Wesson, who's represented L.A. City Council District 10 since 2006, first pointed to his endorsements from the Los Angeles County Business Federation, and the Los Angeles Area and Hollywood Chambers of Commerce.

"I need to hear what their concerns are, what your concerns are, how do we move forward from this point?" Wesson said. "I have some ideas myself, but I do want to incorporate the plans from the professionals."

Among those ideas are creating opportunities for child care in unused office buildings and churches.

He noted L.A. created alternative learning centers for elementary and middle school students at city recreation centers.

"We needed our essential workers to go to work, but they had concerns about their children," Wesson said.

Wesson also mentioned his four grandchildren, which include a 20-month-old grandson.

"Every week, he's changing," Wesson said. "He is like a dry sponge, sucking everything up, and we've got to take advantage of that time."

BUDGETING FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS — BOARD OF SUPERVISORS

Both Board of Supervisor candidates said there needs to be creative solutions for handling a finite amount of resources.

In Wesson's words: "governments are never going to have enough money." And Mitchell's: "I can never say, there will never be any cuts. If I were to say that I'd be lying to you, right."

Herb J. Wesson Jr. addresses his supporters after pulling ahead in the results at his election watch party, with his wife Fabian Wesson, the evening of California's 2020 primary elections on March 3, 2020. (Annie Lesser for LAist)

For example, California faced a $54 billion deficit and an early draft of the state budget reduced funding to child care programs for low-income families.

Mitchell said as chair of the Senate Budget Committee she advocated for creating a rainy day fund that was tapped to help stave off early childhood cuts.

"What I could say is look at my history," Mitchell said. "Look at my record. Understand that I know that early care and education isn't an area that we can afford to skimp."

Wesson said he'd weathered the dot-com bubble as speaker of the California State Assembly and the Great Recession as president of the L.A. City Council.

"We've got to creatively look at ways to generate more revenue, so that we can deliver the services that the people want, need and expect," he said.

Wesson said regulating the cannabis industry brought in additional money to the city and that Measure J, which would shift money from the Sheriff's Department to community investment programs, could cover some early childhood programs.

"I would have earmarked a percentage of that that'd go directly for early child care, development and other needs," Wesson said. "I do not believe that it's too late to do that. So when, Lord willing, and the people will it, and I get there, that'll be one of the first things."

Both candidates also said they'd be open to new measures to finance early care and education.

BUDGETING FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS — LAUSD

Tanya Ortiz Franklin said the board should consult the community through listening sessions as it formulates next year's budget.

Tanya Ortiz Franklin is running to represent South L.A. and San Pedro in LAUSD Board District 7. (Courtesy of the Ortiz Franklin campaign)

"I do think about the earliest learners and how we share responsibility for financing the really important stages of brain development, through play and reading and interactions with other students and staff members who are trained and supported to make sure that our students are ready for elementary school and all the way through college," Ortiz Franklin said.

LAUSD's enrollment has been declining, which creates budgetary challenges since the district receives money from the state based on enrollment.

"If we increased our youngest learners' enrollment, that would be great for the district long-term, we would, you know, do better by our budget holistically," Ortiz Franklin said. "And we know that when we invest more heavily at the earlier years, that our kids are much better prepared for college once they leave us."

Patricia Castellanos said her top budget priority is ensuring the district has the resources to open school safety.

"This is an opportunity for collaboration with state agencies," Castellanos said. "We need to work with and/or push our state, our state government, the governor and legislature to invest in these programs and to make sure that the dollars are there."

Castellanos said she's heard through her work as an aide to L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl that the business community sees child care as an urgent need.

"I think we need to seize on that opportunity to bring all the stakeholders together and figure out strategies for investing in that," Castellanos said.

ON LAUSD'S ROLE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD FOR INFANTS AND TODDLERS

While more than half of L.A. County babies and toddlers are eligible for state subsidized child care, research estimates only 6% are served. The pandemic has made finding child care even more challenging.

Moderator Vickie Ramos Harris said the district could use bond dollars to transform existing facilities into classrooms ready for babies and toddlers.

Castellanos said she'd support this and the addition of transitional and early transitional kindergarten.

Patricia Castellanos is running to represent South L.A. and San Pedro in the District 7 seat on the L.A. Unified School District's board. (Courtesy of the Castellanos campaign)

Last year, the district released a Birth to Eight Roadmap that outlined new teaching methods, data collection and strategies to work with parents to help kids prepare for kindergarten, learn to read by third grade and eventually graduate from high school on time.

"I think we can more easily transition children from a quality child care environment, into a TK (transitional kindergarten) environment, and on to kindergarten, and that there is a better continuum of care, for lack of a better word, for families," Castellanos said.

Teen parents in the district can already access state-funded child care programs at four infant centers.

"I'd like to think about collaborating with many other partner agencies and partners to serve our babies and toddlers, whether they are children of L.A. Unified students or not," Ortiz Franklin said. "We should be thinking more long-term about serving our entire community, and not wait until they're 4 or 5 years old enrolled in an elementary school."

Note: One of the forum's sponsors, the L.A. Partnership for Early Childhood Investment, also supports LAist's early childhood coverage.

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