Governor Brown issued his budget proposal last week, as he does every January. Many organizations, like the California Budget & Policy Center, offer smart analyses and explanations of what is in the Governor’s budget. The good news is that this year’s budget offers early childhood advocates a lot to be excited about, including investments in early childhood education, health, and family support – all of the things that First 5 believes are critically important for children and families to succeed.
A lot of work and revision will happen between now and when the budget becomes final in June. But the January budget is significant because it signals the Governor’s priorities and the budget projections give the legislature a sense of the dollars available to work with.
For Contra Costa children, the budget holds a lot of promise.
The budget includes many improvements to early childhood education programs. It increases funding for subsidized child care programs; increases the number of high-quality preschool slots; and creates a new online community college for early childhood education, which should lead to more qualified child care teachers. Those are big, important moves that will support, strengthen and grow California’s early childhood system. Exactly how many parents, children and providers would be affected in Contra Costa is not yet clear, but currently there is an estimated shortage of 29,000 child care spaces in the county. There is a lot of room for improvement.
Another exciting proposal is the plan to increase funding for family support services. These are the services designed to help families who are vulnerable because of poverty or other factors that put them at risk for maternal depression, poor academic outcomes for the children, or interaction with the child welfare system.
The Governor proposed to create a new home visiting program for first-time mothers who receive assistance through the CalWORKs program. If passed, this would be an important new program that would match new parents with trained professionals who would provide regular home visits on a voluntary basis. Home visiting programs have been shown to promote healthy child development and academic success, improve health outcomes, and support families’ economic security.
Again, the number of families who could benefit from this program is unclear at this stage. Home visiting programs operating today can only reach a tiny fraction of all the families who might benefit from them. Contra Costa Health Services’ Nurse Family Partnership program has reached over 300 families. Other programs operating in the county, including First 5 Contra Costa’s Welcome Home Baby, reach hundreds of other families. Without adequate funding, it’s no wonder these programs cannot meet the needs of the 15,000 Contra Costa children under age 6 who live in poverty.
The Governor’s budget makes it clear that early childhood advocates, who have been telling the Administration for years about the need to prioritize children, have made an impression. Given the big needs of our young children, the Governor’s proposals highlighted here are welcome, though they will not suffice. The administration and legislature need to keep their eyes on the many complex and critical needs of our children in this and every budget cycle.
Sarah Crow is First 5 Contra Costa’s Strategic Information and Planning Manager