Efforts to Lift Children and Families Could Fit California’s Budget, New Study Says

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Awarding parents more time with newborns and easing ac­cess
to preschool could fit with­in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first state budget,
according to UC Berkeley researchers.


Newsom — as candidate for governor — promised to expand affordable
preschools, along with buoying parents raising infants and toddlers, in hopes
of narrowing the “school readiness gap,” as he called it during the fall
campaign.


Berkeley analysts identi­fied funding sources to support
working families, while dodg­ing additional burdens on Cali­fornia taxpayers.
“Lawmak­ers could extend preschool to many more children, while put­ting little
pressure on the state treasury,” said Gerry Shelton, a Sacramento
school-finance expert and coauthor of the re­port.


The state will begin the new fiscal year with nearly a $15
billion surplus, thanks to a booming economy and plump treasury in Sacramento.
But the Berkeley analysis warns that competition for new dol­lars in the state
budget will be stiff.


The report advances four financing ideas to buoy young
families with a baby at home, along with parents struggling to find affordable
child care or pre-k.


–Extend transitional kin­dergarten to 50,000 additional
4-year-olds in the coming three years, while enriching class­room staff. By
bolstering K-12 populations, this could hedge against an $800 million cut to
public school spending tied to enrollment declines, rather than costing more;


–Expand paid family leave to about 100,000 new families
after the birth of newborn by increasing the state disability tax by 0.1
percent, to avoid a hit on the state general fund, and distribute levies fairly
among all California workers;


–New supports for infants and toddlers, as urged by New­som
during his campaign, must be financed from the state’s general fund,
researchers say. But pediatric care for newbornscould be reimbursed by the
federal government if the Af­fordable Care Act withstands political challenge.
Newsom may include this element in his proposed budget.


–Include support of infant-toddler and pre-k organiza­tions
in the next school facili­ties bond. Districts like L.A. Unified have pioneered
the use of local revenue bonds to sup­port early learning centers. The
legislature can broaden this approach to finance new child-care and pre-k slots
for infants, toddlers and preschoolers in community-based programs as well.


Each proposal avoids raid­ing the state’s budget surplus,
while steadily ramping-up in­vestments to backstop young families in the coming
two to three years. Key to the analysis is a pending $800 million cut in public
school spending over three years, tied to a steady decline in the state’s
student population, according to the legislative analyst.


Adding preschool-age chil­dren to otherwise shrinking K-12
enrollments would avert the ongoing shaving of educa­tion spending, as well as
serve rising counts of 4-year-olds in high-quality programs, as the report
details.


The state’s relative riches do offer the chance to initiate
ear­ly-childhood investments that could be sustained even when the economy
flags, researchers conclude.


“We can also extend paid family leave, for instance, to tens
of thousands of young parents with newborns,” said Berkeley’s Bruce Fuller, pro­fessor
of education and public policy in the Graduate School of Education, “without
spend­ing a dime from the budget sur­plus.”


Building
infrastructure over time


Just one in eight California parents with infants or
toddlers can find space in a licensed home or center facility, ac­cording to an
earlier Berkeley report. The new analysis sug­gests that early-childhood pro­grams
might be included in a new school facilities initiative pegged for the 2020
ballot.


Los Angeles pioneered the concept of passing local bonds to
build scores of early learning centers, say researchers. They describe how this
approach could be extended statewide — to expand and modernize licensed
child-care homes and preschools.


The Berkeley report points out that California “has more
than recovered from recession-era cuts” to early-childhood and family programs.
Still, less than half of all 3- and 4-year-olds attend quality pre-k state­wide.


“We have a rare opportunity to simplify and amplify our
early education system,” said Abe Hajela, a legal expert in Sacramento who helped
draft the new report, “if the gover­nor and legislature move bold­ly and
prudently in the coming year.”


Broader tax reforms, technical details


The report points to longer-term revenue possibilities as
well, such as returning to a split-roll property tax, with heavier levies
placed on in­dustrial properties. This was the case before voters passed
Proposition 13 in 1978.


Other proposals include tax­ing services provided between
corporations, which presently escape any public levies, de­spite making up a
growing por­tion of all economic activity in the post-industrial California
economy.


But “we see no good fiscal reason to wait when it comes to
investing in young children and families,” professor Fuller said. “We see
strong comple­mentarities between widening access to quality pre-k, while
backstopping funding for pub­lic schools.”


The analysis was conducted by Capitol Advisors, a Sac­ramento-based
firm special­izing in education finance. It was commissioned by the Early
Childhood Think Tank at Berkeley, a statewide panel identifying sound options
for lifting California families sup­ported by the Heising-Simons and Packard
Foundations.

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