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California's 10-Year Plan For Early Learning Is Long On Proposals But Short On Funding

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California announced an ambitious strategic plan to improve its system of early learning and care over the next decade but providers and advocates say it does little to address immediate challenges — like families who can’t access care or providers who lack the supplies and financial support to continue operating.

The Master Plan For Early Learning and Care, which was released by the state this week, would cost between $2 billion and $12 billion over the next decade. Advocates say the long-term goals are likely to take a backseat to the early childhood crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

"The immediate need is for an infusion of cash, dollars, to allow folks to go, you know, go to work and have their children well supported," Ted Lempert, president of advocacy group Children Now.

Even before the pandemic, only an estimated 6% of babies and toddlers who qualified for subsidized care in L.A. County received it, according to Advancement Project California.

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An analysis of L.A. County child care providers found the gap between available public funding and the money needed to provide high quality care is between $4,000 to $8,000 a year per kid.

"The plan does recognize that while it is mandated to deliver a long-term plan, there is an immediate need for relief to families, children and the early learning workforce in the wake of COVID-19," Jesse Melgar, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s communications director, wrote in an email response to LAist’s questions.

He pointed to the $515 million in federal money the Governor and Legislature has allocated to purchase protective gear for providers, create emergency child care vouchers and waive families fees for low-income families who receive subsidized child care.

“We eagerly await additional federal funds to further help,” Melgar said.

In a briefing on Thursday, Kris Perry, deputy secretary of the California California Health and Human Services Agency, said the master plan is a starting point to reform longstanding problems in the child care system.

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“We hope that you'll all take the plan in the spirit it’s intended, which is to find ways to move forward to build a better system for everyone, but most particularly children who have been left out of a system that has not served them,” Perry said.

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