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California Budget Proposal Expands Transitional Kindergarten, But Does Little To Support Child Care Industry In Crisis

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Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal calls for a $500 million investment toward the long-term goal of universal preschool, but promises little immediate relief for parents and providers struggling to operate during the pandemic and lacks critical details on how the state will spend new federal dollars for child care.

Expanding transitional kindergarten to serve every 4-year-old and all 3-year-olds from low-income families is one of the goals outlined in the long-anticipated Master Plan For Early Learning and Care released in December.

“[I’m] not naive about the challenge, even if you wanted to do it, you couldn't spend all the money and provide the quality that's foundational in terms of the expansion, but now we have a plan,” Newsom said.

Here are a few highlights from today’s budget proposal related to early childhood:

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  • $44 million from marijuana tax revenue for 4,500 additional child care vouchers for low-income families
  • $250 million in one-time funding to help public school districts expand their transitional kindergarten programs.
  • $50 million for early educators professional development programs.
  • $200 million to expand facilities for kindergarten and transitional kindergarten.
  • $300 million for a grant program that funds special education services for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

Critics of the plan and the budget proposal say it doesn’t do enough to prop up the state’s existing early care and education programs. Nearly 3,000 licensed child care homes and centers had permanently closed by the end of 2020; thousands more shut down temporarily.

“The system is in crisis and we can't wait any longer,” said Kristin Schumacher, a senior policy analyst at the California Budget and Policy Center.

She said $500 million to expand transitional kindergarten won’t address the needs of working families who need care outside of a typical school day or children under 3 years old.

The proposal includes $44 million of marijuana tax revenue for 4,500 additional child care vouchers for low-income families, but does not expand the number of preschool slots, like Newsom’s first two budget proposals did.

“We wish that there was more funds available to fund the whole system, but I think what this signals is that this is a starting point,” said Patricia Lozano, executive director of the nonprofit Early Edge California.

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The most recent federal coronavirus relief package includes an estimated $1 billion for California child care programs, and while Newsom’s proposal calls the funds “profoundly significant,” it doesn’t include any details on how that money will be spent.

“For example, while the proposal dramatically augments federal investments in some other areas, it does not include significant new state investments for our fragile child care system, which is essential to getting our economy back on track,” Children Now President Ted Lempert said in a statement.

The state is currently negotiating its first ever contract with providers who care for children in their home through the state’s subsidy program for low-income children.

Child Care Providers United Chair Max Arias said while the proposal includes $500 million for public early education programs, those are still largely closed throughout the state.

“I think they need to rethink how they're going to make this investment to ensure that the people actually doing the work on the ground are the ones that are being supported at this stage,” he said.

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WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

Newsom’s budget proposal is just that — a list of things he’d like to see the state spend money on. The state legislature now has until June 15 to pass the budget. In May, the governor will present his budget revision, called the “May Revise,” which gives us a better idea of the state’s economic future.

RELATED BUDGET COVERAGE:

MORE EARLY CHILDHOOD COVERAGE:

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