California Is Reshaping Its Child Care And Early Education Programs — Here's How You Can Weigh In 

Family child care provider Tonia McMillian. (Priska Neely/KPCC)

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California's early childhood system is over-burdened and underfunded. Not all low-income families that qualify for free or low-cost child care can access it, other parents are spending a quarter of their income on child care, and the workforce is shrinking.

And that was before the coronavirus pandemic.

Next month, California leaders will unveil a much-anticipated Master Plan For Early Learning and Care that will shape programs in the state for years to come.

And there's still a chance for you to weigh in — the state's Early Childhood Policy Council will hold a special meeting dedicated to the plan on Friday, Nov. 20 at 3 p.m. The agenda is here and you can register to attend here. If you can't make the meeting, share your thoughts here or email MPELC@chhs.ca.gov.

"I think the aspiration for the early childhood master plan is really to make sure that California has the capacity to grow in ways that serve more children and also make sure that we are actually serving them better," said L.A.-based policy council member Kim Pattillo-Brownson.

If this all sounds familiar, you're not wrong. California has been trying to reform its early childhood programs since the 1980s. Last spring, a statewide Assembly Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education debuted 108 pages of recommendations to improve these programs for families and the workforce. You can check out the highlights here.

How is this different?

"I was told that this master plan is a document that we will use as a platform to build from," said council member and Bellflower family child care provider Tonia McMillian. "I'm hoping that's the truth."

The world looked very different when legislators, at Governor Gavin Newsom's urging, set aside $5 million in the 2019-2020 budget to create a roadmap to universal preschool. At the time, the state had amassed nearly $19.2 billion in reserves.

Last fall, Newsom announced that experts from at least nine different organizations would "develop a comprehensive roadmap for California to accelerate the Governor's goal of providing universal preschool and action steps to increase access to affordable, high-quality child care that embraces the strengths and meets the needs of parents and young children."

Then the pandemic totally upended the world of early care and education and created a $54.3 billion state budget deficit.

Thousands of providers closed and those that remained open struggled to navigate public health directives and secure basic supplies such as paper towels and disinfectant.

The master plan will have to balance Newsom's goals to expand services for California families with the reality that the state risks losing thousands of existing child care spaces permanently in the aftermath of the pandemic. The crisis has further exacerbated the systemic racism and inequalities that have long plagued the child care system

"We may not operate under the title of mammies, but the policies that we work under still treats us as if we're mammies," said McMillian, pointing to the low pay for providers. In L.A., child care workers make an average of $14.65 an hour. "We didn't just get here overnight and people have grown accustomed to and very comfortable [with] making rules for us parents and the workforce without us."

Organizations including WestEd and Stanford University's School of Education are writing the master plan and it's also informed by the Early Childhood Policy Council — a group of educators, child care providers and parents hand-picked by the Governor and legislature.