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What Our Next Governor Has In Mind For California's Youngest Residents

Gavin Newsom (C) holds his two year-old son Dutch as he greets supporters during a campaign stop at on June 2, 2018 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Heads up, California babies. The governor-elect, Gavin Newsom, is looking to make your life better. Newsom -- the father of four kids under the age of 9 -- has called himself a fanatic about early childhood issues, and has said improving care and education for infants, toddlers and preschoolers is a top priority.

Newsom's education plan starts with a focus on the first three years of life, and calls eliminating child poverty the "north star" of his administration. "No one should be surprised,"he told KPCC/LAist. "When I get in there, that first budget will reflect this priority."

This could affect roughly 3 million California kids aged 5 and under.

This is not a whim for Newsom. He talked about it at debates and events. And during the election, his campaign released only two televised ads -- both were child focused. "Even my campaign team is like, 'Why are you doing those ads? Attack your opponent," he told KPCC/LAist in November. "And I'm like, 'No, let's use this campaign as an educational tool.'"

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Here are some of the challenges he'll face:


1 in 5 California children live in poverty.


The market price for licensed care for infants and toddlers can can easily outpace the cost of in-state tuition for University of California schools. Annual costs of infants/toddlers: $9,400-$15,100. Annual cost for kids 2-5: $8,800-$10,000.


The median hourly wage for a childcare worker in 2017 was $12.29. For a preschool teacher is was $16.19. More than half of the early childhood workforce qualifies for some form of public assistance.


Statewide, only 1 in 8 families can find a licensed center to provide care for their infants and toddlers.


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Money for programs flows through a tangled web of federal, state, local and private sources.


It's not everyday that you hear political candidates talking about brain science, but Newsom regularly spouts facts about all of the brain structure that develops in the first three years. In fact, it was a regular topic during primary debates, due in part to a coordinated effort by early childhood advocates to make it a regular talking point.

He wants parents and caregivers to know about early brain development and the importance of talking, singing, reading and playing with kids. "I wasn't aware of it," he said. "My wife went to Stanford and all this fancy stuff and we had no idea with our first two kids -- that is the most determinant three years of a young person's life."

He also said he wants to expand care for infants and toddlers, nurse home-visits for first-time mothers and prenatal support.

Newsom has already made investments in the early childhood years. As mayor of San Francisco, he prioritized the expansion of preschool for 4-year-olds. In 2004, local voters passed a publicly funded Preschool for All program to reduce costs to families across income levels.

Despite the victory, Newsom told KPCC/LAist that he "blew the opportunity to focus zero to three."

Child advocacy groups have started releasing videos and policy briefs highlighting their issues of choice for the governor-elect, and we will be following the funding and policies affecting young children under Newsom's administration.

Meanwhile, we've asked some key players in the field what they what they're hoping to see.

KRISTIN SCHUMACHER, senior analyst, California Budget and Policy Center

There were major cuts to funding for state-run child care and preschool programs for low- and moderate-income families after the recession. Funding has slowly eeked back up to 2007-08 levels, but demand still outweighs supply. Schumacher told us restoring this should be a top priority.

"We know that if we provide families with resources, such as access to subsidized child care, that they're able to work and maintain employment because they know that their kids are in a safe and stable and consistent environment that they can rely on while they go to work. That's really important because we want to boost familles' resources and we know that really benefits kids in the long run."

ANTHONY RENDON, Speaker of the California State Assembly

Rendon, who worked as a preschool director before he became a legislator, wants to prioritize creating a publicly funded universal preschool program for all 4-year-olds. He told us that he and Newsom are committed to achieving it "at some point in the near future." Lawmakers see it as a way to close the achievement gap and address poverty.

Just Tuesday, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, who also has a background in early childhood, introduced legislation to expand pre-K access for 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families.

Rendon created a Blue Ribbon Commission in 2017 aimed at streamlining the early childhood education system. Subcommittees focused on access, financing, workforce and family engagement are set to release reports next spring. With Newsom's support and a growing number of legislators who've worked in early childhood (McCarty, Sen. Holly Mitchell, and now Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager) he hopes to make real change.

"There's a whole cadre of people who spent their career in early ed, so it is a special time," said Rendon.

SEPTEMBER JARRETT, former director of San Francisco's Office of Early Care and Education

During his time as San Francisco's mayor, Newsom gave momentum to preschool funding; now more than 90 percent of public school kindergarteners in the city have been to preschool before kindergarten. But there are big gaps in care for babies and toddlers, and Jarrett wants to close them.

"Like other communities throughout the state, we have huge challenges in access to infant and toddler care and issues of affordability," said Jarrett.

In San Francisco, infant-toddler care is available for about 15 percent of children. In Los Angeles County, just 11 percent are in licensed care settings.

Addressing this, Jarrett told us, also means expanding paid family leave.

"Parents of young children are stressed and stretched both to earn their living and to raise their kids and are forced to make really difficult choices, both because of the high costs and lack of availability of quality options, or any options, in a lot of places in the state."

TONIA McMILLIAN, family child care provider

Home daycares make up about a third of the total licensed child care supply. They're usually a more affordable option and are more likely to have slots for infants and toddlers than other child care settings.

The median income for family child care providers is around $12 an hour, and low pay, cuts to subsidies and lack of benefits are causing more and more of the businesses to close. McMillian and more than 800 providers have turned to SEIU Local 99, the education workers union, which is allowing them to voluntarily pay dues with the hopes of gaining collective bargaining rights to improve wages, safety and benefits.

"At the same time parents are struggling to pay their own rent, providers are struggling to pay our own rent and to pay expenses and keep our doors open," said McMillian.

"We've got to make sure that providers have equitable wages for the work that we do."

Newsom has signed a pledge saying he'll support collective bargaining efforts.

KIM BELSHÉ, executive director of First 5 LA

Belshé has been in lead policy positions during three gubernatorial transitions in the state. She told KPCC/LAist that in addition to funding and policy reform, sustained support for the issues over the course of a term depend on who a governor puts in key roles.

"I think that's particularly important for early childhood development because it's not like there's a secretary for early childhood development," said Belshé.

One of the first hires of Newsom's administration is incoming chief of staff Ann O'Leary, who among other achievements, advised President Obama's transition team on early childhood education. Belshé hopes Newsom will name a point person who can corral ideas and resources to breakdown silos between school districts, public health, social services and other areas.

"That's thinking and acting beyond early care and education, to also focus on family strengthening and child health. And there's no one agency that does that."

MARY IGNATIUS, statewide organizer for Parent Voices, CA

When politicians roll out new policies, they often don't include the parents who have to navigate the systems and programs, Ignatius told KPCC/LAist. She hopes to see an effort, in Newsom's first 100 days, in which the administration meets with the parents who are directly impacted by the policy and funding decisions.

"Folks underestimate just how smart and thoughtful and engaged parents are, particularly low-income parents and low-income parents of color," she said. "They live and breathe our childcare system everyday, and if you sit down and talk to them about what it takes to improve that system, you will get 5, 10, 15, 20 policy ideas that are reasonable, that are doable."

And since it is easy to separate issues within early childhood into separate (and competing) age groups and initiatives, Ignatius has this reminder:

"If the governor wants to prioritize infant and toddler care, then [his administration] has to be prioritizing families with infant and toddlers, with the recognition that they might have a 4-year-old or a 10-year-old and that entire family needs a system of care. Families don't look at any of these things through a single lens, and we shouldn't either. This governor has the aptitude to look at these things very comprehensively and not try and pick winners and losers."

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