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Money for early education disappears in Brown's budget proposal

Preschoolers start their day with ribbon stretching at Joy of Learning Academy in Rowland Heights.
Deepa Fernandes / KPCC
Preschoolers start their day with ribbon stretching at Joy of Learning Academy in Rowland Heights.

Preschoolers from low-income families waiting for a preschool seat may not get it in 2017 if Governor Jerry Brown’s austere budget proposal passes. Released Tuesday, the governor's budget zeros out about $226 million that was slated for early childhood expansion as promised in the 2016 state budget.

“In real world impacts, it has very immediate implications,” said Kim Pattillo Brownson, vice president of policy and strategy for First 5 LA. “There are about 3,000 young children and their families slated to have early learning opportunities made available to them who now will not.”

The 2017-18 fiscal year was supposed to be the year funding for preschool got back on track – at least that’s what last year’s budget deal promised. But in his early projections for 2017, Brown proposed freezing funding that would have increased new preschool seats.

Pattillo Brownson said funding levels for early education are still 20 percent below what the state spent prior to the recession in 2008. Private preschool remains expensive, she said. “Affordability has reached crisis proportions."

She worries that without the additional preschool seats, “thousands of families are now not going to be able to afford to work and educate their children at the same time, and so it will become a choice between one or the other.”

In fact, advocates like Pattillo Brownson believe the governor is placing an unfair burden on low-income families with small children who are on waitlists for their children to get a preschool seat. “There are still tens of thousands of families [on waitlists] who are being told to now prepare for the next recession and they haven’t yet enjoyed any of the fruits of the last recovery.”

Also frozen in the governor’s budget proposal was the small raise set to come to childcare providers who are reimbursed by the state for serving low-income families. Pattillo Brownson said for years these providers have struggled to make ends meet. Without the raise, some may be forced to close, which would mean even less child care options for poor families.

For civil rights advocate Karla Pleitez Howell, director of educational equity at the Advancement Project, Brown is failing children. “Children and families need to become priorities,” she said.  “Let’s honor last year’s promise to give kids the opportunity to start on the right foot.”

The governor did propose that children who come from families who earn more than the income guidelines for free preschool but who have “exceptional needs” be allowed service.

Additionally Brown’s proposal would give more flexibility to programs to meet minimum adult to child ratios, and ease some building licensing requirements.

Barrett Snider, a partner at Capitol Advisors Group, said these specific policy changes “will be popular… to both educators and the legislators that pushed for it – the women's caucus, in particular.”

However, overall, the budget does not advance children's early education needs, said Deborah Kong, director of Early Edge, a preschool advocacy group. She called the budget proposal a “missed opportunity.”

“There remains an unmet need for quality early learning for young children,” said Kong. “We look to Speaker [Anthony] Rendon’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Care and Education to carve out a long-term vision for a high-quality early childhood system and we support the Legislative Women’s Caucus’ call for additional investments in young children this year."

Speaker Rendon's office did not respond to KPCC's request for comment.