California Families Pre-K
Mothers, children and advocates with Parent Voices join California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom in Sacramento in June for the signing of the state's budget. Photo courtesy of Mary Ignatius of Parent Voices.

Equal Voice

California Dreams Big for Families: Better pre-K, More Care

August 29, 2019

By Elise Franchino

Marguerite Casey Foundation is sharing this analysis of new California budget money to support programs for families – programs that were the efforts by families. It first appeared in EdCentral, the blog for the Education Policy Program at New America.

At his inauguration, Gov. Gavin Newsom exalted the California dream.

“So deep does the California dream run in the history and character of our state that it can feel as enduring as our primeval forests or our majestic mountain ranges,” he said. “But, there’s nothing inevitable about it. Every dream depends on the dreamers, and it’s up to us to renew the California dream for a new generation.”

As though on cue, the next generation of Newsom wandered onto the stage and into his father’s arms. The governor continued on, envisioning a California where every child is loved, fed and safe, and parents of young children are supported. As his two-year-old son nuzzled into his neck, Newsom said, “There’s nothing more important – I hope you can tell – than giving them a good and happy life.”

California has more than 39.5 million people and a poverty rate of 13 percent. The new state budget includes improved support for universal pre-K, paid family leave, child care for low-income families and the California Earned Income Tax Credit, among other policies.

Newsom’s promise to California’s children and families was signed into reality on June 27, when the state budget was enacted. The $214.78 billion budget includes $103.4 billion for K-12education programs and roughly $5.5 billion for earlychildhood education and support for families.

Here’s the breakdown:

With the ultimate goal of universal access to high-quality education and care, the state will create a new Master Plan for Early Learning and Care. Funded at $5 million, this strategic plan will establish a path to universal pre-K and expand paid family leave, among other goals. An Early Childhood Policy Council will be established to advise the Master Plan, with constituents including parents, providers, and representatives from state agencies. The Early Childhood Policy Council, funded at $2.2 million, will also advise the Legislature’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education Final Report.

The budget increases access to child care for thousands of families with low incomes, enabling parents to work or attend classes while their children learn in a safe, caring environment. Through a $143.3 million ongoing investment, partially paid for by an $80.5 million Cannabis Fund and $12.8 million federal Child Care Development Fund, 12,400 more children will receive care through the Alternative Payment Program and the General Child Care Program. The California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program, designed to aid working parents with incomes below 85 percent of the state median income, received $228 million in ongoing funding. This expansion will allow additional work-related activities to ease the burden of work requirements and accommodate the 14,000 children recently accepted into the program.

California Families Pre-K

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, is seen with Julia Allen, a youth advocate with Parent Voices and a 2019 recipient of a Marguerite Casey Foundation Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Award, in June at the state budget signing event. Parent advocates and California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom are behind them. Photo courtesy of Mary Ignatius of Parent Voices

To move toward universal pre-K, the state invested $31.4 million for the current fiscal year and $124.9 million ongoing into the California State Preschool Program (CSPP). Though this year’s budget eliminates the work requirements that previously prevented all families from receiving full-day care, children in families that work full-time are prioritized for enrollment. Eligibility was extended for all children living in school-attendance zones where more than 80 percent of children qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch. Although CSPP is the largest state-funded pre-K program in the nation, at $932 million, the program earned six out of 10 benchmarks for quality in the National Institute for Early Education Research’s 2018 “State of Preschool Yearbook,” demonstrating a need to improve quality alongside the mission for universal access.

Acknowledging the importance of elevating quality, the budget invests $460 million for facility and workforce improvements. Of that one-time fund, $245 million (along with an additional $18 million transfer from the Child Care Facilities Revolving Loan Fund) will be leveraged over four years. The vast majority of this Early Learning and Infant Care Infrastructure Program will provide grants to child care and pre-K providers to expand facility capacity. Only five percent may be used for renovations and remediation of health and safety concerns.

The remaining quality investments will go to workforce development and data alignment. Over four years, the Early Learning and Care Workforce Development Program will allocate $195 million in grants for professional development and continuing education. The state’s new $20 million Early Learning and Care Data System will integrate statewide provider and recipient information and align seamlessly with the K-12 longitudinal data system.

A portion of the aforementioned $103.4 billion K-12 funding will serve young children, though elementary schools were not explicitly apportioned in the budget. One early childhood investment highlighted was a $300 million one-time fund to construct or retrofit facilities to provide full-day kindergarten programs. Those funds are restricted to districts converting from part-day to full-day kindergarten classes, and are substantially increased from the $100 million investment in the Kindergarten Facilities Expansion Program in 2018-2019.

California Families Pre-K

Families with Parent Voices are seen in Sacramento during the grassroots organization’s “Stand for Children Day” in May. Hundreds of people participated. Photo courtesy of Mary Ignatius of Parent Voices

Combating childhood and inter-generational poverty are unequivocally critical. The budget expands the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide 3 million working families an additional $1,000 annually for food, rent and child care. Another $331.5 million of this year’s budget and $441.8 million ongoing will increase the amount of financial support given by Maximum Aid Payments to CalWORKS participants from 38 percent up to 52.8 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, depending on local costs. Local child-support agencies will receive $19.1 million to increase administrative capacity, which is expected to result in the collection of hundreds of millions of dollars. Students at state colleges with dependent children may take advantage of the $96.7 million put towards CAL Grant Access Awards to earn a $4,000 to $6,000 stipend. Finally, children born in low-income families will now have access to $50 million in one-time funding allocated to Child Savings Accounts.

Poor health and exposure to trauma can be barriers to children’s learning. To address this, California invested $30.8 million from ongoing federal funds and $23.1 million in state funds for new developmental screenings for children in the state Medi-Cal health care program. Trauma screenings for children and adults in Medi-Cal received $27.2 million in federal funding and $13.6 million in state funding, with the goal of identifying families and tailoring services to meet their needs. Trauma is not a new topic for California. The previous year’s budget launched a three-year All Children Thrive pilot program for $10 million to engage localities in developing a comprehensive, city-wide approach toward trauma reduction.

Home-visiting programs, in which a health or education professional provides individualized support for families of infants and young children, have been proven to bolster child development and school readiness, improve maternal health and promote positive parenting practices. California’s new budget expands eligibility for their home-visiting programs beyond first-time parents and broadens the range of models to meet families’ unique needs. The CalWORKs Home Visiting Initiative received $89.6 million for the current fiscal year and $167 million in ongoing funds from the state and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants. This funding is expected to serve 18,500 additional families. The California Home Visiting Program and the Black Infant Health Program received $34.8 million for the current fiscal year and $30.5 million in ongoing state funding to support children at risk of trauma and to support the health of African American mothers and infants.

California is one of only five states (along with Washington D.C.) to offer paid family leave. Beginning in July of 2020, families will be able to access eight weeks, rather than the current six weeks, of paid-time-off to bond with newborns or adopted children, care for an ill relative, or assist during a family member’s military deployment. Wages will be supplemented at 70 percent, with a cap at $1,252 per month. The Governor has expressed the goal of increasing wage supplementation to 90 percent and allowing families three to six months of paid family leave, depending on marital status.

While many of the programs in the budget will benefit young children and their families, critics suggest that the budget may have not done enough. Though professional development is prioritized, early-childhood teachers’ working conditions, adequate salaries and benefits are not. California’s weak requirements for pre-K teachers were ignored, despite evidence that increased credentials result in higher-quality pre-K learning environments. New questions have also been raised after Newsom vetoed a local tax increase intended to expand access to child care services for working families. The budget is the integral first step, and now the capable team Newsom has assembled can turn their attention to the arduous challenges of sustainability and implementation.

The innumerable ways in which young children’s futures are being protected in California goes far beyond care and education. Their strong funding for environmental protections, clean water, and access to affordable housing will inevitably improve children’s well-being. With a state budget that heavily invests in families and a Governor committed to California’s children, the future looks sunny on the golden coast.


Marguerite Casey Foundation is sharing this analysis, which originally appeared in EdCentral, the blog for the Education Policy Program at New America. New America is a think and action tank in Washington, D.C. Learn about the organization and its newsletter. Elise Franchino, who has taught public schools and taught Head Start, is an intern for New America’s Early & Elementary Education team. Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America.

California Dreams Big for Families: Better pre-K, More Care