“We are in very uncertain times,” said Governor Jerry Brown when he released his 2017-18 State Budget proposal last week. The Governor is anticipating a $1.6 billion deficit, the first deficit projected after four years of growth, due to lower revenues collected. The anticipation of major policy shifts from the incoming Trump administration and the Republican Congress only adds to the uncertainty. The impact of reduced (or eliminated) federal funding flowing to California will likely be reflected in the May Budget Revise, if known.
Last year was another productive one at First 5 Contra Costa. Our funded programs and activities continued to improve the lives of our county’s most vulnerable children, and reached over 30,000 parents, children and providers.
1,830 families participated in First 5 Center classes and activities. Over the course of services, parents reported an increase in parenting knowledge, child development, and where to find help for their family. Parents also read to their children more, and for longer periods of time, after participating.
We’ve been working to improve early childhood experiences for nearly 20 years – and new research shows it’s paying off.
Last month, researchers from Stanford University released new data comparing 40,000 children who started kindergarten in 1998, 2006, and 2010. They found that children from the poorest and wealthiest families improved in early literacy and math assessments. Despite the Great Recession and growing inequality in the country, children in poverty made the largest gains.
The lead researcher said the achievement gap is closing “not because schools are getting more equal, but because something in early childhood is becoming more equal.” According to researchers, the leveling force may be parents.
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.
2015 was another productive year at First 5 Contra Costa, as our funded programs continued to improve the lives of our county’s most vulnerable children and families. Take a look at some highlights accomplished by our funded programs in 2015:
Programs and activities funded by First 5 Contra Costa reached 5,100 children, 18,725 parents, and 1550 early care and education providers.
385 expecting and new parents received home visiting services, with 6,700 visits provided. We changed our home visiting model three years ago to provide more intensive and longer services. Since then, families are now getting more than twice the number of home visits and being served twice as long.
Each year, new families participating in our funded programs complete a survey when they start services, providing us with demographic information about the children and families served by these programs. Last year 2,951 parents completed the survey. Here’s what we learned:
- Our families struggle to make ends meet.
- 30% earn less than $15,000 per year; while 33% earn between $15,000 and $30,000. Nearly one-third of mothers served do not have a high school diploma or GED.
Last 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.
We know that quality early childhood programs can prevent crime and lead to higher graduation rates and future earnings, but now new research shows they can also prevent chronic disease and improve adult physical health.
Professor James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in economics and long-time advocate for greater investment in early childhood programs, published the research after reviewing the 40-year-old Abecedarian preschool program, one of the oldest early intervention programs in the country.
In the Abecedarian preschool study, two groups of low-income children birth to age five were tracked: one who received services and the other who did not. Services included stimulating early learning experiences from birth, full-time preschool, meals, and periodic medical check-ups and screenings. Continue reading
This month marks the 15th anniversary of Proposition 10, the ballot initiative that created First 5 commissions in California. Although November 1998 seems like another era, even back then there was a wave of research that revolutionized the understanding of how early experiences affect the developing brain.
Armed with this knowledge, Hollywood director and producer Rob Reiner took a bold step and proposed a ballot initiative that even now seems impossibly ambitious: tax cigarettes at 50-cents-per pack and use the proceeds to create a system of programs for children 0 to 5 and their families in every California county by establishing independent commissions to provide oversight and allocate funds.
The initiative barely passed, with 50.5% of the electorate (51.72% in Contra Costa County!). Prop 10 opponents, almost entirely tobacco companies, outspent supporters by three to one. Two years later, those same opponents would put forward another initiative to repeal Prop 10, which was rejected by 78% of the voters. Later, there were other failed attempts to de-fund First 5. But these efforts never distracted us from our mission: to improve the lives of Contra Costa’s youngest children.
We’re Celebrating 15 Years for Kids!
It’s been 15 years since California voters approved Proposition 10, the California Children and Families First Act, and created a guaranteed revenue stream to fund health and education programs for children birth to age five – the most important developmental years for children.
For the past 15 years, First 5 Commissions in every California County have strategically invested Prop 10 funds to help children grow up healthy, nurtured, and ready for school.