News & Notes:

Sean’s Message

In his January budget draft, Governor Brown proposed consolidating three pre-kindergarten programs into one $1.6 billion block grant to the counties. Local education agencies would receive, and determine how to disperse, these block grant funds.

California’s state-funded preschool programs include varied funding streams, eligibility requirements, and curriculums. These programs consist of the California State Preschool Program ($880 million), a small block grant for quality rating and improvement systems ($50 million), and Transitional Kindergarten ($725 million).

Streamlining the current system is a reasonable objective; however, we believe that improving California’s early care and learning system is too important and too large an investment to be carried out in the budget planning process.

Contra Costa’s leaders in early care and education, representing First 5 Contra Costa, the Contra Costa Child Care Council, Community Services Department, and Contra Costa County Office of Education, jointly raise these concerns with the Governor’s proposal:

The Preschool Block Grant is significantly underfunded. During the Great Recession, California’s funding for child care and early learning was cut by $1 billion, leaving 100,000 children without preschool. To date, only $350 million has been restored. Increased funding is needed to ensure all low-income children receive quality preschool experiences, which research shows improves their futures. Only 60% of California children attend preschool. A block grant is capped funding, can diminish in value over time, and is not necessarily protected in tough budget times.

Parents rely on California’s mixed delivery system to go to work. Licensed child care and early learning are provided in a mixed delivery system that includes small and large family child care homes and public and private centers. The variety offered allows parents to choose the best setting for their family’s needs, including full-day care. It is unknown if school districts will support this model and what working parents will do if districts don’t.

These Pre-K programs are different and meet different needs. The California State Preschool Program (CSPP) combines Prop 98 and General Fund dollars in public and private centers, offering part-day and full-day care for children living at 200% of poverty. The curriculum is child-development focused and CSPP sites rate among the highest in Contra Costa’s quality rating scale. Transitional Kindergarten (TK) is funded through Prop 98 for School districts to provide an early kindergarten setting using kindergarten curriculum for children with fall birthdays that miss the September 1 kindergarten enrollment cut-off date. Combining these programs in a block grant without a clear definition of the hoped for result is risky and fraught.

Reform is welcome, but not through the budget process. We’re firm believers in streamlining systems to be most effective, but early learning is too important and too large a system to be reformed in a rushed four-month budget process. The Bay Area Quality Early Learning Partnership has produced actionable recommendations for building a system based on high-quality for the California children who need it the most. We recommend that the legislature use these recommendations as the foundation for crafting the pre-k reform that everyone desires.

First 5 Advocacy Day at the Capitol

April 5 was First 5 Advocacy Day at the Capitol with staff and Commissioners from 28 First 5 commissions visiting lawmakers in Sacramento to boost support for First 5 and for policies that support young children and families.

The event kicked off with a morning breakfast, followed by visits with local legislators. Our Executive Director Sean Casey along with First 5 Contra Costa Commissioner John Jones visited with legislative staff representing Assemblymembers Katherine Baker and Susan Bonilla and Senator Steve Glazer to discuss First 5 policy priorities including home visiting, developmental screening for all children, children’s oral health, quality child care, and policies needed to strengthen families.

As President of the First 5 Association, Sean also met with health and education advisors for Governor Brown. During the meeting, Sean stressed the importance of making quality the basis of any reform to the current early learning and education system. And while he didn’t see Governor Brown, Sean did spot the Governor’s less famous corgi, Colusa.

Click here to learn more about the First 5 Association’s policy agenda.

Tobacco Bills Await Governor’s Signature

Six new tobacco-control bills are awaiting Governor Brown’s signature. Passed by both the Assembly as part of a special session on health, and later by the Senate, the package of six bills includes legislation to define e-cigarettes as tobacco products, increase the smoking age to 21, and establish an annual tobacco licensing fee:

  • ABX2 7 (Stone): would close loopholes in smoke-free workplace laws, including hotel lobbies, small businesses, and break rooms;
  • ABX2 9 (Thurmond): would require all schools to be tobacco-free;
  • ABX2 10 (Bloom): would allow local jurisdictions to tax tobacco;
  • ABX2 11 (Nazarian): would establish an annual BOE tobacco licensing fee program;
  • SBX2 5 (Leno): would add e-cigarettes to existing tobacco products definition; and
  • SBX2 7 (Hernandez): would increase age of sale for tobacco products to 21.

Once the bills get to Governor Brown, he has 12 days to act. According to this Sacramento Bee article, tobacco industry pressure to launch a referendum campaign may be contributing to the delay in getting the bills to the Governor. The tobacco industry can launch a referendum campaign only if the bills are signed.

As a side note, there will be no effect on Proposition 10 funding (our funding source) should the e-cigarette bill be signed into law.

All Parents Have Questions, Help Me Grow has Answers!

All parents have questions, and Help Me Grow has answers!

It’s normal for parents to have questions about how their children are growing and developing. Some may wonder if they’re developing on track, are worried about children’s behavior, or might just need information about the best way to help their child develop and prepare for school.

For answers, parents can call 2-1-1, operated by the Contra Costa Crisis Center, and ask for a Help Me Grow specialist. 2-1-1 child development specialists are available to answer parents’ questions about early childhood development, to provide tips and resources, help parents get free developmental screening for their children, and to link them to services if their child has developmental concerns.

First 5 Contra Costa, with a grant from the Thomas J. Long Foundation, is implementing Help Me Grow in our county. HMG is a system based on a national model to streamline early identification and referral to help young children thrive, particularly those with developmental delays or concerns. Having a designated phone line, like 2-1-1, is an important component of the system. So now, regardless of why people call 2-1-1, anyone with children under age five has the option to speak to a Help Me Grow child development specialist.

Here’s an example of how it works:

Jennifer called 2-1-1 requesting assistance paying her rent and her utility bill. When the 2-1-1 operator discovered that Jennifer had three children, including a one-year-old daughter, Jennifer was transferred to a Help Me Grow Specialist. After several calls together, the Specialist learned that Jennifer had just come out of a difficult and contentious custody battle with her ex-husband who was awaiting trial for allegations of domestic violence and child abuse. While she had concerns about her children’s well-being and emotional health, she didn’t think her youngest daughter needed support because she was “too young to know what was going on”.

The Help Me Grow specialist gently introduced the topic of trauma exposure and how trauma can effect early development in children. She then reviewed specific milestones to make sure Jennifer’s toddler was developing like other children her age. With the Specialist’s support, the family enrolled in a counseling center, which provided services for everyone, including early intervention services for the youngest child.

For more information about child development and Help Me Grow, click here or visit our website.