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Santa Maria Sun / School Scene

The following article was posted on January 16th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 46 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 46

Proposed $2 billion in early child care funding could close county's readiness gaps

By Kasey Bubnash

Early childhood care isn't cheap. 

In Santa Barbara County, parents spend an average of about $1,000 on infant care and $800 on preschool services each month, according to data collected by the Santa Barbara County Child Care Planning Council. That cost is near, if not totally, unaffordable for many low-income families, especially those with multiple children and costly rentals. 

Roughly 35,600 local children are in families with incomes that are at least 70 percent less than the state median, according to Child Care Planning Council data, but not all of those families are eligible for state and federal subsidized care. Those who are–about 14,700 of the county's kids–have to compete for the 7,061 subsidized early child care spaces available in the county. 


INVESTING EARLY
Children play at Buellton’s Zaca Center Preschool, which includes an outdoor classroom.
FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF SHELLEY GRAND

Many local families aren't able to access early child care and preschool services, either because there aren't any open spaces, or they can't afford it and don't quite qualify for financial help. So when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced recently that his proposed state budget would include $2 billion for the expansion of early childhood care and education services across the state, many state and local leaders in education applauded the move as a step toward closing readiness gaps that exist between children of different incomes. 

"Investing early education dollars hasn't always been a priority," said Wendy Sims-Moten, executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County, an organization that distributes funding to local programs that provide early childhood development, health, and family support services to families with children ages 5 and under. First 5 has also done work recently advocating for increased state funding in early childhood services. 

"So to see this new governor do that is awesome," she said. "The early years are the best investment."

The funding is part of Newsom's proposed $209 billion 2019-20 state budget, which he submitted and made public on Jan. 10. 

Roughly $125 million of the budget would go toward expanding preschool and making it more accessible to all low-income 4-year-olds. About $750 million would be used to ensure that full-day kindergarten classes are available everywhere. Millions more would go toward expanding state-subsidized child care programs, improving child care access for college students, and increasing home visits and developmental screenings for infants.

If passed, organizations like First 5 could benefit from the additional funding, and Sims-Moten said her foundation could use the help. First 5 is funded by profits the state gains from its sales taxes on tobacco products, but she said that as smoking becomes increasingly less popular, First 5's funding source diminishes. 

The proposed funding could help expand services that First 5 already supports, Sims-Moten said, and could help the county offer services to a much larger number of families, regardless of their salaries. 

There is an obvious economic disparity in the county, Sims-Moten said, and with that comes school readiness and achievement gaps: children of families who could afford preschool go to kindergarten with a head start over those who couldn't attend, and that difference can last throughout adulthood. 

Early childhood education is critical for children and their families, and should be important to all employers and communities, Sims-Moten said. High quality early care and education programs provide safe learning environments for children, and allow parents to participate in gainful employment, support themselves and their families, and strengthen the economic base of the whole community.

"So I see the investment here and the long-term return," Sims-Moten said. "It just leads to future strength if we start now." 

Staci Rich, the site supervisor of the Betteravia Early Education Center in Santa Maria, said child care expansion for low-income families could help many Santa Marians. Although Rich said that some families who enroll their children in the center qualify for subsidies, the qualifications needed are restrictive, and many don't. Those who don't, she said, pay $750 per child a month for preschool services, and $1,150 a month for infant care–all out of pocket. 

Making high quality child care more accessible would be worth it, Rich said, for the children, who would go on to learn at a faster pace, and for their parents, who would be able to work without worry. 

"There will be more working families and less welfare, I think," Rich said. "Early childhood education is the start of a child's future, really." 

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash writes School Scene each week. Information can be sent to the Sun via mail, fax, or email at mail@santamariasun.com. 




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