California needs a master plan for early childhood

Advocates, leaders and researchers have been waiting for a long time to have an early childhood champion in the governor’s office.

Now we finally have one. Gov. Gavin Newsom and the new California Legislature have a historic opportunity to put families first this year — something politicians all say they want to do.

Patricia Lozano

Gov. Newsom committed a $2.5 billion-dollar total investment in early childhood in the 2019-20 budget, focused on the whole child, and composed of new one-time funds and ongoing funding. That is something we should all be praising.

The big question is: What should we do next and how? There are too many working families on waiting lists for childcare, early learning providers don’t receive enough public funds to provide the best care for our families and teachers are paid poverty-level wages. Too many children are not getting the health services they need to give them the best start in life.

The Newsom administration is asking us to have a master plan to solve all these issues first before making any long-term funding commitments like reforming California’s reimbursement rate system, paying higher salaries to early learning teachers, providing universal pre-K or comprehensive health services.

Mayra E. Alvarez

An independent team of researchers and experts will develop an actionable plan based on current and previous research reports by October 2020. A 27-member Early Childhood Policy Council — comprising diverse stakeholders from across the state, including childcare providers, parents, legislators, advocates, and experts in the field — is also being established to review and implement this plan.

The ultimate goal is to create an infrastructure that leverages the commitment of this administration and prepares children and their families for future success. We agree with the governor’s vision and call for accountability, on behalf of the children we serve.

We need a multiyear strategy to fund a comprehensive early learning and care system for California’s children and families. First, the state should estimate the cost of providing high-quality programs for all kids, with well-paid teachers who receive good training and supports. Research shows that we need to invest in quality programs if we want to reduce the achievement gap.

Scott Moore

Based on Stanford University’s Getting Down to Facts report, “California has many good providers; but for a state that once led the nation in early childhood education, early childhood education today is marked by diminished investments in quality, low wages, and highly fractured oversight.”

We also need a strategy to develop alternative funding streams, that defines the appropriate role of government, the business community and parents in early care and education.

Other states have developed partnerships between the public and private sector and many other revenue initiatives to fund early learning that could serve as a model for California.

We need a system that works for children and families — a seamless system of wraparound services that supports a diverse child population, connects families to health and social services and offers high-quality childcare and a pre-K education system in California. Programs should have the necessary supports so they can follow curricula that invest in children’s social, emotional, health and academic development.

This system should also have a strong data infrastructure that integrates or links data from all the programs serving kids in California, provides information on teachers and providers and is accessible for parents.

This will not be an easy task. Let’s work together with this administration and the Legislature to build an “early childhood system” for all kids in California. Our children have waited far too long to have support like this from California’s Governor.

It’s now our turn to give him the support he needs to do his best work for California’s children and families. Armed with the latest research on brain science and knowledge about best practices and policy in the field, California is primed to pave the way for national reform on early childhood issues, as shown by initiatives like the governor’s “Parent Agenda.”

Given California’s economic importance and size, we can lead the country in establishing a high-quality early childhood system that supports well-paid and highly qualified teachers and meets the learning, health and development needs of all children and their families.

Together, we can move forward our shared commitment to ensuring our youngest Californians have the tools and resources necessary to get the strong start they need and deserve. This is our moment, and we should seize it.

Patricia Lozano is the executive director of Early Edge California, an advocacy organization focused on advancing policy changes and investments that will expand high-quality Early Learning programs for all children from birth to age 8.

Mayra E. Alvarez is the president of The Children’s Partnership, a non-profit advocacy organization that works at the intersection of research, community engagement and policy to advance the health and wellbeing of children in California and across the country.

Scott Moore is the CEO of Kidango, a leading early childhood non-profit that serves thousands of low-income children and families, helping ensure every child is on a path to thrive in kindergarten and life.

The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the author. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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