Parents fear budget cuts could slash child care subsidies

01.23.2012 | Marin Independent Journal | Rob Rogers

Marin County educators fear
that the budget cuts proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown could eviscerate the
county’s early childhood education programs, leaving dozens of
low-income families with no one to care for their children during the

“The cuts they are proposing could really collapse our child
care system,” said Aideen Gaidmore, executive director of the Marin
Child Care Council. “This would leave many parents with no options but
to either leave their child in an at-risk situation — with someone who
was not qualified to take care of them — or to quit their jobs.”

governor’s budget proposal would eliminate $223.7 million in funding
for a statewide transitional kindergarten program scheduled to begin this fall. That program would, over the
course of three years, place children who are not 5 years old by Sept. 1
of a given year into a two-year kindergarten program, giving them a
chance to catch up developmentally with older children born in the same

“The data shows that children who get these early
experiences progress better in school,” said Karen Maloney, chief
financial officer for the Novato Unified School District, which offered a
pilot transitional kindergarten program this year — and had hoped to be
able to expand the program next year. “It may be possible to structure a
program that would benefit age-appropriate children, even if we don’t
call it transitional kindergarten. Right now, we’re really exploring
our options.”

The state budget proposal would also slash
$516.8 million from the $1.5 billion California spends on subsidized
child care, a cut that consultant School Services of California
estimates will eliminate 62,000 child care placements statewide. While
Marin officials aren’t yet sure how much the county will lose as a
result, they note that Marin’s child care programs are still recovering
from a $2 million cut to their $13 million overall budget last year.

new cuts would come as a result of removing eligibility for subsidized
child care for many parents and by reducing the amount the state will
reimburse child care providers. Marin officials say those cuts, if
enacted, are likely to greatly expand the number of children on a
waiting list for subsidized child care — a list that has already grown
to more than 1,000 names.

“The cost of living in this area creates
a need in many families for both parents to work — and they can’t work
without reliable, quality child care,” said Susan Gilmore, executive
director at North Bay Children’s Center. “Not only do (the governor’s
proposed cuts) impact our families, but they’re also going to impact our

Gilmore estimates that the proposed cuts to
reimbursement rates would slash about 10 percent from the $1.02 million
her organization receives from the state every year to provide
subsidized child care. Because of its contract and state child care
licensing requirements, North Bay won’t be able to close that $102,000
gap by laying off workers or reducing the number of children in its
care. Instead, the organization will have to increase the $310,000 it
already generates each year through fundraising — a difficult thing to
do during a recession-wracked economy.

Parent Emily Wimmer fears what the proposed cuts might mean for her family.

work full-time and go to school part-time, and the only way I’m able to
do any of those things is because of the subsidy,” said Wimmer, a
Novato resident whose 2- and 3-year-old children do not receive child
support or any other benefits. “If I didn’t have it, that would probably
put us in a shelter. I wouldn’t be able to work — there’s no one else
who could watch my kids. It’s scary to me, as a single mom, that I might
have to make those kinds of decisions.”

The state budget cuts
come at a time when experts are recommending an increase in subsidized
care as a means to help eliminate the academic “achievement gap” between
children of high- and low-income status. Last week, “A Portrait of
Marin” — a report by the American Human Development Project commissioned
by the Marin Community Foundation — recommended expanding the county’s
access to early childhood education.

By slashing the early
childhood education budget, the state would turn many of its highly
regarded child development programs into little more than babysitting
services, said Liz Burns, director of Community Action Marin’s Child
Development Program.

“Our whole focus is making sure that children
are prepared to go to kindergarten,” said Burns, whose program serves
about 500 children throughout the county. “By reducing the reimbursement
rate, it’s taking us from child development to child care.”

who lose access to subsidized care as a result of the cuts may have few
options, said Amy Reisch, executive director of the First 5 Marin
Children and Families Commission.

“Some can rely on friends or
relatives. Those who have older children may just leave them by
themselves, because they have to work,” Reisch said. “It’s a desperate
situation for many people.”

Educators insist that it’s still too
early to tell which of the governor’s proposals will be adopted by the
Legislature, and that it may still be possible to keep some or all of
Marin’s preschool programs intact.

“Until we have more
information, it’s difficult to understand the full impact” of the
proposed cuts, said Marin County Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane
Burke. “One thing we do know is that when the state both acknowledges
the importance of — and provides funding for — both K-14 education and
quality child care, that will be a time when we can be certain as a
community that we are investing appropriately in our children and

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