Extra assist for struggling California little one care sector

Live Ames for EdSource

Daisy Anaya plays outside at the Pajaro Valley Unified Childcare Center for the children of migrant workers.

Live Ames for EdSource

Daisy Anaya plays outside at the Pajaro Valley Unified Childcare Center for the children of migrant workers.

California lawmakers on Tuesday took steps to respond to calls from the state’s childcare sector to increase state payments in support of the system. They came about with a new early childhood education and care package that doubles the number of subsidized childcare places proposed by Governor Gavin Newsom and changes daycare pay to save the fragile system.

While Newsom expanded Transitional kindergarten and created 100,000 new subsidized childcare places in the May revision of its budget, state lawmakers and child advocates argue that it hasn’t gone nearly far enough.

For this reason, the legislature’s proposal provides for $ 1.5 billion to be used for the creation of 200,000 additional subsidized care places and $ 1.1 billion in current funds for the tariff reform. Other important changes are the introduction of a transitional kindergarten over four years instead of three years as planned by the governor with a lower teacher-child ratio and the lowering of family fees for subsidized childcare, all in line with the spirit of the Master plan for early intervention and care.

“The big picture is that this is a historic budget,” said Rep. Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento. “We honestly have a golden opportunity for a political generation to make some transformative investments in our public education system with this economic boon to California’s richest individuals, making long-term investments in our children and our future. “

California currently has two different ways to pay for low-income childcare. Some centers have contracts with the state to take in a certain number of low-income children each year. These centers receive a flat rate for each child, which is based on age and special needs. Other centers and family children’s homes have no contracts with the state, but can register children who are entitled to subsidized childcare through vouchers. These centers receive different rates depending on regional costs. As a result, the state sometimes pays higher fees to centers that accept vouchers even though they have more children in each classroom, lower educational requirements for teachers, and no mandatory curriculum than centers that must meet higher standards.

“Prizes and slots are inextricably linked. Early childhood educators must receive decent wages through tariffs that incentivize them to support families who have childcare allowances, ”said Mary Ignatius, national organizer of Parent Voices, a California parenting advocacy group. “Families have no access to care if providers have to close their businesses because they cannot bear the costs.”

For years, lawmakers, lawyers, and childcare providers have urged the state to tie all tariffs to actual market costs in each county and to pay more to centers that offer higher quality care.

Now the pandemic is making the need for childcare reform a huge relief, many say. Many families cannot find the care they need and many childcare workers cannot pay their bills.

“These are the women who take care of our most precious people, our children, every day during the pandemic. I feel like these women took a blow for all of us, ”Senator Connie said Leyva (D-Chinese), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and longstanding advocate of the tariff reform. “It’s just an insult to all of these working women and really black women not to include wage reform in the budget.”

Outdated payment rates, which do not accurately reflect a center’s actual operating costs, have contributed to the shrinkage of the sector, according to experts. The number of family children’s homes has been falling for a long time, decreased by a third between 2008 and 2019, according to the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, which means less seating for children. This is an urgent problem in a state with nearly 3 million children under the age of five.

“We cannot afford to subsidize the compensation rates for providers in our Child care system “, said Kristin Schumacher, a senior policy analyst at the California Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit research organization. “These providers and their employees risked their lives caring for children throughout the pandemic, including school age Children who would normally have gone to school. “

In a high-turnover, low-wage industry, it is difficult to build up the necessary staff for additional childcare places.

“We’re losing our workforce to better jobs at Costco and In and Out Burger, nothing against Costco and In and Out Burger, but people make financial decisions for their families.” said McCarty, chairman of the Assembly’s Budget Subcommittee on Education Funding. “And when the most important job in society is taking care of our children and we’re not paying this workforce a living wage, it’s not rocket science to see what happens. “

Although the childcare sector has long struggled with high operating costs, the pandemic has made matters worse. Nearly half of the state’s family childcare facilities could not pay for themselves and about and 1 in 5 missed a rent or mortgage payment, according to the Childcare Study Centerment. Increasing subsidies is key to a fairer childcare system, say many providers.

“The missing piece is the salary increase for vendors like me,” says Rasiene Reece, a Victorville family carer with 20 years of experience. “This allows us to remain open to support the families we serve and our own families. Now is the time to act on this missing piece. The child care system, which was already in crisis before the pandemic, is now on the brink of collapse. “

In the wake of the pandemic when legions of women retired to look after children, some say childcare workers have emerged as the backbone of the state’s economic recovery.

“Childcare is the only way for many working parents to balance career success with family responsibilities, and it’s especially important to get women back into work,” said Reece. “Childcare facilities are a critical part of our state’s human infrastructure, but our rates have not increased in years.”

Emerging from the pandemic with a new understanding of the structural weaknesses of the state childcare system, hopes for a tariff reform as well as more childcare places are high given the unprecedented fortune of the state.

“This is a year where everything comes through,” said Leyva. “If we say our children are our future, this is the year to prove it to them and their families with this budget this year.”

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