Wood: Brown’s budget slams early childhood education
05.31.2016 | The Mercury News | Erica K. Wood
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Gov. Jerry Brown released his revised state budget earlier this month, and — simply put — it is bad news for California’s youngest kids. The governor’s proposed budget includes no new investments in early education, and it eliminates Transitional Kindergarten, a program that provides an extra year of public school for four-year-olds with fall birthdays. It currently serves 80,000 children.
At a time when the state has reinvested in jails, health, K-12 and higher education, it is still woefully behind in funding early education: at least $800 million behind, compared to state spending levels in 2008. Because of this gap in spending, more than 4,400 child care centers, providers and businesses statewide have shut their doors.
Thousands of children are entering school unprepared and already behind their classmates before they’ve attended a single day of school.
We urge the governor and the Legislature to restore $800 million in funding for early education and ensure that Transitional Kindergarten programs have a stable funding source.
Dozens of groups agree. The California Legislative Women’s Caucus released a statement earlier this month emphasizing its continued support of an $800 million investment for state child care programs in this year’s budget. Both the California Senate and Assembly Budget Subcommittees are calling for increased investments and have rejected the governor’s proposal outright.
For anyone who wonders why investments in early education matter, here is what decades of research tell us: Low-income children start falling behind their more privileged peers early in life, and that “achievement gap” is difficult to reverse later in life. What science tells us about brain development, along with long-term economic analyses, is that high-quality early child care and learning are essential to reducing the gap.
But the benefits of investments in early learning go beyond academic achievement.
For every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education programs, society saves $7 because of higher graduation rates and workforce participation, higher income and less reliance on public benefit programs such as welfare.
Today California is home to the highest percentage of children living in poverty in the nation. The governor says he is serious about alleviating poverty. Access to high-quality early childhood education programs are proven to break the cycle of poverty.
So why would he propose to reduce funding for these programs and reducing the amount the state reimburses nonprofits that serve the lowest-income children in our communities? Why would he eliminate Transitional Kindergarten after working for years to fully implement the program — one that recent research has shown to be effective in preparing students for academic success?
Members of the Legislature, the Women’s Legislative Caucus, a Silicon Valley coalition and advocacy groups across the state are asking these same questions.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon has proposed to establish a Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Care and Education that would engage multiple stakeholders to design an effective, accessible system that serves California children from birth through five years old. We applaud this action and thoughtful approach to meeting the needs of families while providing the best education and support for our youngest learners.
The budget is a statement of our values and priorities as a society. It is time to prioritize our children in the final negotiations and budget package. They need to be first in line for increased public investments, not last.
Erica K. Wood is chief community impact officer of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. She wrote this for the Mercury News.