Consistent California Advocacy Results in Significant Budget Improvements for Early Learning

Over the past few years we have seen increased leadership from California legislators on early learning including from the Assembly Speaker, the Senate Budget Chair - both former early learning providers from Los Angeles - and the Women’s Caucus.

However, even with significant legislative leadership, competing demands on the state budget and a Governor disinterested in early learning have meant an uphill battle this budget season.

Back in January, California’s governor outlined a state budget that effectively put a “pause” on the multi-year agreement reached in the prior year to raise child care and preschool reimbursement rates and expand state preschool. Despite positive revenue projections, the governor took this conservative approach due to uncertainty created by the potential massive cuts to health care from the federal government, which would affect California to the tune of over $20 billion.

However, by the time of the May Revise of the budget, advocates had succeeded in convincing the Administration to reverse the “pause” and the momentum around additional priorities surged, particularly the urgent call for updating eligibility guidelines for subsidized child care and preschool, which would reverse the unintended consequences of the state’s recent minimum wage increase. A final push of support for the budget asks by The Children’s Movement of California received sign-ons from over 500 diverse organizations from across the state, reaffirming widespread support for early learning.

The final budget ultimately included:

  • An increase of $25 million to update income eligibility requirements for subsidized child care and preschool to 70% of State Median Income (SMI) based on the most recent census data;
  • Continuous 12-month eligibility for subsidized child care and preschool; and
  • Allowing parents to remain eligible for subsidized child care until they reach 85% of the SMI.

The final budget also included nearly $240 million in additional funding to meet last year’s agreement to raise reimbursement rates for state-funded child care and preschool programs, including a cost of living adjustment, and further expanding the State Preschool Program.

In addition, the budget funded the Emergency Child Care Bridge Program for Foster Children, with $15 million designated to establish voluntary county programs for emergency vouchers, starting January 1, 2018 and $31 million to support the program annually thereafter. This funding ensures child care is not a barrier for families interested in fostering children, allows immediate access to child care for foster children and assistance in finding long term child care options, and trains providers on trauma informed care to support the needs of these children.

California is finally digging itself out of the severe economic hole created by the 2008 Great Recession, which disproportionately affected early care and learning programs. However, it is estimated that more than 1.2 million eligible children have needs that are not met. There remains a tremendous amount of work to do to ensure our state has a more coherent and comprehensive early learning system that serves the dramatic need in our state. State advocates are now turning their sights toward the next governor and a long-term strategy to ensure the next Administration prioritizes early learning

-Stacy Lee, Managing Director Early Childhood and Kate Miller, Senior Associate Early Childhood Policy
Children Now
(July 31, 2017)