Making kids a top budget priority

Elementary school students in a California classroom. ((Photo: Monkey Business Images)

A new analysis of the state budget from the nonpartisan Legislative Analysts Office identifies about $1.1 billion in new money available in the budget for discretionary spending.

That is good news. While California’s finances still fluctuate with the tide on Wall Street, the report from the LAO confirms what policymakers in Sacramento have been saying for months: There is money available to make prudent and strategic investments in California again.

More specifically, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders have an opportunity to make spending decisions that will prioritize children, many of whom took the brunt of budget cuts over the last decade. While there is much for children’s advocates to celebrate in this budget – particularly the billions in new revenues for K-12 schools, we know that
starting at kindergarten is not enough.

Making smart investments in early childhood development programs and quality child-care programs will have a dramatic impact on our economy, our state, and some of our most vulnerable citizens. It can help parents who cannot afford the private childcare options that more affluent Californians provide for their children, and give kids from all backgrounds a fair start.

We know that children’s brains develop at a dramatic pace during their earliest years. In fact, 80 percent of brain development happens by the age of 3. But research has revealed that, by age 4, children in high-income families have heard about 30 million more words than children in lower-income families. A big part of that chasm is the gap in access to quality childcare programs that promote early learning and socialization of children.

Kids who do not have the same access to these quality child care programs are put at an early disadvantage, which sets the stage for future disparities in education and even job earnings.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown approved a budget that included nearly $273 million for early learning and child development. This initial investment paid for an additional 1,000 slots for General Child Care and 7,500 additional full-year, full-day State Preschool slots. This year’s budget provides funding for an additional 2,500 slots for part-day State Preschool, but the demand is much greater than the modest investment agreed to by the governor last year.

The Legislative Women’s Caucus has called for an investment of no less $600 million to be dedicated to the child care system to help increase access to quality, affordable childcare.

Common Sense Kids Action is encouraged that early childhood programs are a budget priority for many policy makers.  Here’s hoping that as budget negotiations continue, legislative leaders and Gov. Brown can agree to a new state spending plan that prioritizes the needs of California’s children, and make the kinds of sound, strategic investments that will pay dividends for generations to come.

Ed’s Note:  James P. Steyer is CEO and Founder of Common Sense Media.


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