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Child Care Funding Testimony

Prepared remarks by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson before the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee on March 1, 2012 in Sacramento.

Thank you Senator Leno and Senator Emmerson and members of the committee for the opportunity to be with you today.

I come before you today to thank you for the work you've done despite the budget crises of the last few years—the work you have done to preserve California's decades-long commitment to early learning. Year after year, the Legislature has served as the last line of defense for California's youngest and most vulnerable children. Despite the painful cuts that have been made to these programs, your work has kept in place the infrastructure of these programs—and the vital connection between child care and early learning. You've recognized that children at the start of their lives deserve more than just a safe and clean place to wait while their parents work—they also deserve a chance to learn and to grow.

That's why I'm here to urge you to reject the Administration's child care proposals. Because unless you do so, all the work you have done until now to preserve California's commitment to quality child care and early learning will be lost. The Administration's budget proposal simply does not acknowledge the fundamental role quality child care and early learning play in a child's future—and the future of this entire state. In fact, I find myself surprised that we are even having this conversation—that this can be up for debate.

The Administration's childcare proposal takes two fundamental steps toward dismantling California's high-quality childcare system. First, the magnitude and design of the cuts that have been proposed would simply break many of the small businesses that form this critical infrastructure of service providers. These programs have already been cut severely, losing nearly $890 million in funding over the last four years. This budget proposal would cut them by an additional $500 million. That would mean as many as 62,000 children losing services. And the cumulative impact of these cuts since 2008 would amount to a 42 percent loss of state funding for childcare.

Previous cuts have left more than 100,000 children unserved annually. That's on top of 200,000 eligible children who were on the waiting list in 2010. The second big problem beyond the cuts proposed to the programs, is the equally misguided proposal to divorce child care from child development and early learning. This proposal flies in the face of literally decades of research into the benefits of strong early childhood education programs.

One new study, for instance, shows that adults who participated in a high quality early childhood education program in the 1970s are still benefitting from their early experiences in a range of positive ways. Everyone from business leaders to law enforcement, neuroscientists to teachers, agree on the inherent and long-term value. It's really a simple choice—invest in kids early, and reap the rewards of a better-educated, more productive workforce and a healthier state, or pay the price later—with more high-school dropouts, and more young people headed for trouble.

What the Administration has offered is realignment for realignment's sake—with nothing to show for it, and plenty to lose. There are no cost savings. In fact, both the Administration's proposal and the Legislative Analyst Office's create a risk of higher administrative costs. And the Administration's proposal would cost $35 million this year in up-front, new administration costs for county readiness, before the realignment even starts! There is no long-term policy rationale. We already have a strong local system carrying out this work. Why would we cast a successful local system aside in favor of another inexperienced one—and spend $35 million to do it? Why would we be willing to turn our back on decades of commitment and proven research? Why are we having a debate over whether our children can have either clean, safe care or can be prepared for success in school? Why not both if the investment of tax dollars is the same?

For decades, our early learning and child care system has been a model for the nation. These programs are a model because they are based on the findings of the very best research, which demonstrates that quality early learning programs—where teachers are well-trained, curriculum is carefully developed, and partnerships exist between our California Department of Education and local providers—these programs make a real difference that lasts a child's whole life. What we do with the current state programs sets a bar that raises the quality of care for all children in childcare in California.

Why would we change course now, and devolve our nation-leading programs and miss this critical opportunity to prepare kids for success in school? Why? To do so would be more than short-sighted—it would be just plain wrong. I urge you to reject this proposal—because it's not an answer to California's comprehensive budget and CalWORKs problems.

I do understand the financial emergency we face—and that no program can be held harmless. I understand the desire to improve workforce participation in CalWORKs, and that child care can be part of that solution.

I stand ready to help you craft an effective alternative that builds on our high-quality and diverse system—and addresses California's current challenges. My department is ready to work with you and the field to achieve these goals. But let's not toss aside decades of research, decades of commitment to California's children, and years of work by this Legislature to preserve and improve early learning in California.

Thank you.

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