Celia Jiménez here, thinking about the challenges many parents in Monterey County face in finding affordable childcare and early education programs for their children. It’s a problem that doesn’t just impact parents. The ripple effects are felt across industries and the community as a whole.
On June 6, about 100 people, including parents, politicians, members of grassroots organizations and more, gathered outside Hartnell College’s nursing building in Salinas to announce they gathered over 10,000 signatures—nearly double the amount they need—to put a measure on the November ballot to fund affordable childcare and early education programs across the county.
Many people were wearing purple—a mix of red and blue—to show it was a bipartisan effort. Kevin Dayton, who is involved with different business and taxpayer groups, said it was impressive how organizations came together to plan the campaign.
The initiative would add a $49 tax per parcel per year that would provide an estimated $5.5 million every year for 10 years. The proposal includes the formation of an oversight committee and annual audits. To pass, the measure will need over 50 percent of the total votes cast.
Supervisor Chris Lopez said he heard concerns from parents about the lack of childcare and from business owners who couldn’t find enough employees. A common ground between both groups was the lack of affordable childcare and early education. Without affordable childcare, parents often have to choose between going to work or taking care of their kids.
“Every child deserves to have a community wrapped around them,” Lopez said. “We are one community with one vision for what our children need.”
To get to this point, dozens of volunteers gathered signatures across the county, waiting outside of businesses or talking to parents in the streets. Within a few weeks, they had thousands of signatures.
One of these signatures was from Maria Rodriguez, a Salinas resident and mother of four who had left a job that didn’t cover childcare costs. Rodriguez returned to work two years ago with aid from Mujeres en Acción. She finished her high school diploma, became a citizen, and enrolled in college classes. “I see a lot of need,” Rodriguez says in Spanish, adding that many in her situation can’t find a care center or run into obstacles or prerequisites and fail to qualify.
Alma Loredo, who is part of Building Healthy Communities Padres Unidos, says she got involved because it’s crucial to highlight the importance of early childhood education. “Our county is one of the richest, but our farmworkers, parents who work as line workers, don’t have access to high-quality childcare,” Loredo says in Spanish.
In Monterey County, only one in four children is ready for preschool. Sonia Jaramillo, program director for early learning at the Monterey County Office of Education, says kids who attend early childhood education programs are ahead of their peers. Jaramillo was a preschool teacher and she saw these differences first hand. “Modern small motor skills take time to develop,” she says. A student with an early education background was more attentive in class, more social, and their motor skills were more developed. Jaramillo adds that research shows kids who aren’t at grade level by third grade have a higher chance to end up behind bars later in life.
Jaramillo says she supports this initiative because she has observed the benefits. “We are providing children access to activities that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Middle-class families would take their kids to the museum, to the beach,” Jaramillo says. “A lot of our kids in that situation don't have access to that and that makes a big difference.” Having access to childcare and early education programs will help to close the gaps among kids and help them reach their potential, she says.
On June 7, the group delivered three boxes full of signatures to the Monterey County Elections Office. Now, the registrar of voters will verify the signatures—the measure needs 5,882 signatures from registered voters to make it on the November ballot.