Childcare Cuts Coming
Child care programs are on the chopping block.
Thursday, March 20, 2003
Photo: Children playing at the Monterey Peninsula College Children''s Center.
A series of proposed state and federal budget cuts could severely cut child care programs for California kids and across the country.
National estimates suggest that already up to 15 million children in the United States are unsupervised on weekday afternoons--a statistic that has been linked to lower school performance and increases in criminal activity.
Gov. Gray Davis'' proposed realignment of California child care and development programs would transfer the management of most of the programs, with the exception of preschool and after-school education programs, from the state to the county governments.
Linda Taylor, program director for Hartnell College''s two Salinas Child Development Centers, believes that after close examination, the realignment plan is risky, and that the risk is being overlooked.
"I think the word is not out there on the potential impacts of this plan," Taylor says. "At first, I thought transferring control to the counties sounded like it might be a positive thing. But we are concerned because getting money in the county budget for child care is dependent on a tax increase to pass."
Taylor is worried that the county budget may not be in a position to fund child care. At risk would be programs like Cal WORKS, Migrant Child Care, General Child Care, Campus Centers and Extended Day Child Care.
"There is no money in the state''s budget for child care programs," Taylor says. "It''s all zeroes."
If the realignment plan goes through, and voters do not approve new taxes--such as increases in the state sales tax or cigarette taxes--child care programs, Taylor says, would suddenly end.
"There is no transition period," Taylor says. "It would be like, by the way, just magically on June 30 contracts will end, and on July 1 there will be no child care.
"There are 455,000 children in the state of California who would be affected--and these aren''t parents who can afford to whip open a checkbook and pay. If they had an alternative, they would have already used it."
Besides the potential impacts of the realignment plan, Taylor says that child care centers are already dealing with other cuts--like Taylor''s loss of a $30,000 federal grant and another $60,000 campus bailout grant.
Dr. Caroline Carney, chair of the child development department at Monterey Peninsula College, says that the MPC center, already facing a $100,000 budget cut from the college, may have to go from serving 58 children down to 18, as it looks at drastic teacher layoffs forced by the realignment plan.
"It is very scary," she says. "We have these dedicated teachers who have been actually subsidizing child care because they accept these low wages, and now they are being told that doors may be closed."
On the federal front, President Bush is also proposing realignment of other child care programs, and could turn preschool programs such as Head Start over to the states, which would then apply for federal block grants. Bush is also talking about "reforming" Head Start into a solely educational program, and taking away the meals, medical care and parent education that the program now provides.
Another program, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program, may lose 40 percent of its billion-dollar budget for California according to a Bush administration plan. Afterschool Alliance, a national nonprofit advocacy group, says that California would lose over $56 million for after-school programs, affecting over 80,000 California kids.
Deb Ferrin of Afterschool Alliance laments the fact that with the Bush budget, almost half of the children served by the current budget would be dropped from child care programs. She points out the voters have already spoken to the need for child care during hours that parents work.
Taylor and Carney have joined California Community College Early Childhood Educators in a letter-writing campaign to try to derail the realignment.
"We are going to fight this thing," Taylor says. "Can you imagine all these people who won''t be able to go to work and will lose their jobs--how is that going to help the state of the economy? Of all things, this is what enables people to get up and get to work, and students to finish a degree. It does seem silly."