sean_portraitLast week, the First 5 Contra Costa Commission reviewed the draft of our new strategic plan, which will guide approximately $53 million in investments from fiscal year 2016/17 through 2019/20. The Commission will vote on adopting the new strategic plan at the October 5th Commission meeting.

As with all of California’s First 5 commissions, we too are dealing with a significant decline in our Prop. 10 tobacco tax revenue.  This decline is not new or unexpected; we planned for it.

For several years, we’ve been using discretionary funding from our fund balance to offset reductions and maintain full funding for programs. This model has served us well, particularly during the Great Recession, but it simply isn’t sustainable. By the end of 2020, we will have depleted our fund balance. Our ability to get external funding has helped extend our work, but it will never be enough to make up for the decline in Prop. 10 revenue and end of our fund balance.

Despite this fiscal reality, we still have an opportunity to use our funds to build solid foundations for all young children in our county – even as we transition over the next four years to the smaller, leaner organization we will inevitably become.

As such, we plan to focus our funding on building enduring systems, policies and partnerships that will have the greatest impact on the greatest number of children in our county. These are systems we’ve been working on for more than a decade, and systems that have attracted significant external funding.

Direct services will still be funded, but only those that fall within the systems we are building through three strategic initiatives:

  • Early Childhood Education: All children have access to high-quality, affordable child care and early learning.
  • Early Interventions: All children achieve their optimal development.
  • Family Support: All children are raised in supportive, nurturing families.

Our fiscal reality is driving this refined focus. With it, come some very difficult choices and the need to reduce funding for worthy programs that do not align with these priorities. Most of these reductions will occur in the first two years of the plan, by June 2018. Our goal is to work with each program, on a case-by-case basis, to gradually step-down funding or help identify additional funding if available.

Although these steps may not be easy to implement, they will ensure the sustainability of a strong service system for children and families for many years to come. The new strategic plan helps us live within our means, takes into account our diminishing revenue, and focuses our investments in ways that help all children in Contra Costa succeed in school and life, now and well into the future.

— Sean Casey is the Executive Director of First 5 Contra Costa.