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Recession Impacts Preschool In California

Q&A with Catherine Atkin

New America Media, Q&A, Carolyn Goossen Posted: Apr 24, 2009

Editor's Note: State budget cuts have cut deep into public education in California, even to the level of preschool programs. Catherine Atkin, President of Preschool California spoke to NAM editor Carolyn Goossen about how the budget cuts and economic recession are affecting Californias youngest children, and how the federal stimulus money may make a difference.

How is the recession impacting parents ability to send their kids to preschool in California?

We are definitely hearing anecdotal but consistent stories of families having to make difficult choices about what they can afford, and unfortunately, childcare and preschool services are one of the things they are deciding to forgo, and figure out other ways to find child care while they are working. Weve heard that parents are looking for relatives and friends that can care for their children. And some of these parents have been laid off, so they are caring for their own children as well.

Who in particular is being affected?

The recession has been especially hard on low-income communities, and some of those communities are disproportionately communities of color. Across the state, we have seen parents unable to afford preschool and childcare, providers shutting their doors and teachers and staff being laid off.

At the very time that we need to be ensuring that families have safe and stimulating learning environments for their kids while they look for jobs and take on new jobs, we are looking at the possibility that there will be less access, and parents will be struggling more to afford the access that they have. We really see investments in early education programs as investments in economic recovery, because they create jobs and they enable parents to work.

Will the budget cuts lead to less preschool slots for California children?

The budget crisis is creating the possibility of real cuts to programs. Right now on the table there is a $55 million cut to our child development programs, which are our state-contracted centers. These are the programs that are state-funded programs for low-income families that need contracts from the state to function. This $55 million cut translates into 10,000 to 14,000 fewer children receiving preschool or childcare services; 2,000 to 3,000 jobs lost; and 10,000 to 15,000 parents unable to go to work due to loss of child care.

We are also bracing ourselves for the possibility that there will be additional cuts to child development as the budget crisis worsens. We are concerned that there could be more cuts coming as the economy continues to be in crisis.

Will the May 19th special elections have any impact on preschool?

If Proposition 1D passes, it would divert moneys from First 5 (California Children and Families Commission) the tobacco tax money that has funded First 5 in the counties. Some of that money has been used to expand preschool services. The money would be diverted to help pay for health and children services in other parts of the state budget.

First 5 has been a real engine for preschool expansion in California, so with reduced funds they will have to make really hard choices.

How much of a difference will the federal stimulus money make in Californias preschools?

Right off the top, President Obama has made major investments in early education. He put $5 billion in new money for the stimulus package for Head Start, Early Head Start, and in monies to states for childcare for low-income families.

And we know that in California, we stand to benefit from the stimulus. Because of our percentage of the nations population of young children, we stand to receive more than half a billion dollars in our share of those federal dollars.

In California there has been a very small investment in infants and toddlers in the past. The stimulus money quadruples the number of kids who have access to Early Head Start.

The Head Start money wont increase access as much, but it puts additional funds into the programs that already exist, and these programs had been under-funded for years.

The billion dollars in increased funding to Head Start means those programs will be more stable, and more able to provide better services to those kids.

Are you feeling hopeful about the future of preschool in California?

While we are looking at cuts in the near future, on the horizon now are conversations about creating a new federal program called the Early Learning Challenge Grant, which candidate Obama talked about as part of his early learning agenda. This would provide money to reward states that are investing in high quality early education programs. For California, all of this couldnt come at a better time.

Does Obama support the idea of free universal preschool?

Obama has said that he thinks that all children should have access to quality preschool programs. His initial investments have been to start with the kids who need it most- low-income kids. Its important to recognize that Obamas vision for early education is education that services both preschool-aged children and infants and toddlers. Now we have someone with this passion for the needs of kids before they enter kindergarten.

Related Articles:

A Smart Arab Investment: Early Childhood Education

Fresno County Commits to Preschool Plan

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