“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.
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.
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.
Our current five-year plan, which ends this June, was developed during the Great Recession and in the midst of severe budget cuts for California’s safety net programs. We decided during that challenging time to keep our funding levels as high as possible, and we did, investing more than $71 million.
A Brighter Climate
The picture now, while not totally rosy, is certainly brighter than it was five years ago. The economy is recovering and some programs decimated by budget cuts have been partially restored. Last year’s state budget process was the easiest in recent memory. Perhaps most exciting is the traction early childhood development funding has currently, from federal and state preschool initiatives to those addressing the “word gap” for low-income toddlers. First 5 has always been on the forefront of early childhood issues. It seems the rest of the nation is catching up, and opportunities abound.
Still a Declining Revenue Source Continue reading
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
There’s been a lot of talk in the last year about the importance of investing in early childhood education. We’ve heard from President Obama, business leaders, and governors from both red and blue states. In New York, Mayor Bill De Blasio and Governor Cuomo are even jockeying to see who will implement a universal preschool plan first.
Last week, at the federal level, we saw more than just talk.
The federal 2014 Omnibus spending bill, which was signed into law by the President, received bipartisan support and includes an additional $1 billion in funding for early childhood education programs. This is a great start.
1. We continued to serve very low-income families. In a survey of 3,000 families new to our services, nearly half (46%) earned less than $15,000 last year. Most of the children had health insurance, with 70% enrolled in Medi-Cal. Thirty-five percent of mothers did not have a high school diploma.
2. More children are receiving developmental screening. Our funded programs provided developmental screening for 1,560 children. Of these, one in five had a possible developmental delay and needed additional assessments. Our Family Survey revealed that 24% of parents were concerned their child was not developing on track.
3. Child behavior problems and parental stress decreased. Mental health therapeutic services were provided to 300 children experiencing serious behavioral problems. These services helped reduce aggressive behavior, attention problems, depression, and anxiety among participating children. Parents completing Triple P parenting workshops reported the classes reduced child behavior problems, helped them to set effective limits, and decreased their stress, anxiety and depression. Continue reading
If you didn’t feel even the slightest stirring at last week’s admittedly over-the-top “Batkid” event in San Francisco, you were distinctly in the minority. The outpouring of affection by thousands of strangers for this one little boy was unexpected, and encouraging in this cynical age.
For one day, Batkid gave the Bay Area a much-needed distraction from the random violence, spiraling housing costs, and clogged freeways we call normal Bay Area life.
Also last week, Contra Costa’s Congressman, George Miller, introduced the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act,” a bill to implement President Obama’s vision of universal high-quality preschool. Under this Act, children across the country would be able to receive the benefits of at least a year of high-quality preschool that will advance their learning far beyond where they would be without it. For low income children especially, preschool can be a potentially game-changing experience.
This should be a high priority for Congress and the nation. A recent report by the Society for Research in Child Development summarizes the extensive evidence base for preschool. In short, “large-scale public preschool programs can have substantial impacts on children’s early learning.” A year of preschool can provide anywhere between a third to a full year of additional cognitive development.
Numerous studies have also demonstrated that “quality preschool education is a profitable investment,” returning three to seven dollars for every dollar spent. Most important to note is recent research pointing to the advantages of preschool to “middle-class children as well as disadvantaged children; typically developing children as well as children with special needs; and dual language learners as well as native speakers.”
But for all children, we need to do everything we can so they are ready, at age five, to enter kindergarten ready to learn in school and thrive in life. Or, if you like, as Batkids prepared to save the country from the threat of a poorly educated, ill-prepared workforce unable to meet the demands of global competition.
Sound like a lot to put on a five-year-old’s shoulders? Not really. The burden isn’t on the children; it is on us as a society, to recognize the things we can do now to provide security for the next generation. And right now we need to build the kind of early education that allows a whole generation of Batkids to save the country.
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.