California has led the United States in recognizing the value of quality early education and child care services for children from birth through school-age for over 70 years. In 1943, California recognized the value of child care services, and therefore, continued to provide these services to women after World War II. California was the only state to continue these centers under the administration of the California Department of Education (CDE). In 1965, understanding the intrinsic value of Head Start, California established a State Preschool Program to provide educational experiences to low-income disadvantage children not eligible for Head Start. All child care and preschool programs were consolidated under the Child Development Act in 1972.
The CDE currently contracts with over 700 private, non-profit, as well as other public agencies so that low-income families can find safe, healthy, and age-appropriate educational environments for the care of their children. The care can be provided in licensed centers, family child care homes, as well as in homes and centers exempt from licensure. The early education system administered by the CDE continues to be the largest, most culturally diverse, and most comprehensive system in the nation, with funding for fiscal year (FY) 2015–16 at $2.4 billion. Services are projected to provide child care to some 450,000 children. Contractors for direct services include school districts, county offices of education, cities, local park and recreation districts, county welfare departments, other public entities, community-based organizations, and private agencies.
Eligibility for subsidized services is based primarily on a family’s income and need for care, with more specific individual criteria for certain programs. Services to children at risk of abuse and neglect, or children receiving protective services through the county welfare department remain a top priority for services. The CDE is committed to maximizing parental choice of care, and improving both the availability and quality of care.
The CDE has continued to support access to high-quality early care opportunities. Children’s school readiness is one of the strongest predictors of school success and life-long learning. The Early Education and Support Division has invested $ 72.1 million for FY 2015–16 ($20.6 million from general funds and $51.5 million from federal funds) in projects designed to support and enhance the quality of services for low-income children to best ensure that not only children’s cognitive development; but their social and emotional skills are also enhanced, and they enter kindergarten ready to learn.
California has had three unique opportunities to increase the quality of child development services. The CDE is the recipient of a highly competitive Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) federal grant to improve the quality of early leaning programs and close the achievement gap for young children with high needs. Lead by 17 Regional Leadership Consortia in 16 counties, the work will ensure positive outcomes for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers by implementing a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) in each region, it is designed to improve the quality of early learning programs by disseminating information about the level of quality to consumers.
In FY 2014–2015, the California Legislature appropriated $50 million to enhance and expand QRIS activities for preschool-aged children. Applicants for this funding may be both within the RTT-ELC project and independent consortia with locally designed QRIS that meet specific guidelines. This activity will continue during FY 2015–16, and has been expanded with an additional $25 million for QRIS projects for infants and toddlers.California has also been awarded an Early Head Start Child Care Partnership Grant that will expand the number of high-quality slots for 260 at-risk infants and toddlers in eleven rural northern California counties. The grant will provide financial support to implement comprehensive services to the participating families, and will include partnering agencies that are not participating in the RTT-ELC.
For more information regarding child care and development programs and quality projects, please contact the Early Education and Support Division at 916-322-6233. Additional information is available on the CDE Child Development Web page.