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
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
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.”
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
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
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