Draft Letter to the GovernorA draft letter to Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., titled "Creating a Blueprint for the Future: System to Save California Taxpayers Millions of Dollars by Providing Crucial Services to Young Children".
Office of California Governor Jerry Brown State Advisory Council on Early Care & Learning
To: State Advisory Council Members
From: Mark Friedman and Richard Winefield
Subject: A Blueprint for Saving California Taxpayers Millions of Dollars by Meeting the Needs of our Most Vulnerable, Under-Served Children
Date: July 26, 2017
California’s system for providing early learning and care for 0-5 year-olds requires immediate attention. The level and quality of services is uneven, and most often it is children in low-income communities who suffer the greatest consequences. If we care about equity in our society, we must address and fix one of its root causes—the lack of equity within our early learning and care system.
Our policymakers have been reluctant to make the large, up-front investment necessary to fully serve our most vulnerable children. This has understandably been due to a lack of available funding, but it’s also because benefits from better early education aren’t evident immediately, within policymakers’ current term of office. Governor Brown’s recent initiative to repair and replace old roads and bridges (SB1) is an excellent example of a bold action that will pay dividends in future years, and provides us with a model for change. His infrastructure plan will require ten years and fifty-two billion dollars in new spending, but will save Californians an even larger expense— the complete rebuilding of infrastructure, and the lives lost in bridge and highway collapses.
A “Blueprint for the Future” would likewise save Californians hundreds of millions of dollars, through reduced remedial and special education, reduced jobless benefits, less drug abuse and homelessness, and reduced costs for prisons and incarceration. By emphasizing the long-term fiscal impacts of a high-quality statewide system of support for children and families, we have a chance to broaden the appeal of our argument.
We hope the SAC will consider this notion, discuss it at our July meeting, and delegate to one or two members the task of reviewing/amending/rewriting the following proposal for the Governor. Thank you!
Creating a Blueprint for the Future:
A System to Save California Taxpayers Millions of Dollars By Providing Crucial Services to Young Children
July 26, 2017
California lacks a coherent, efficient plan for educating its youngest and most vulnerable children. The 2013 California Comprehensive Early Learning Plan (CCELP), while aspirational and well-intentioned, lacks both specificity and funding. A new and more specific plan that builds upon the CCELP would save California taxpayers millions of dollars, and would enhance the lives of countless children from low-income families.
The Guiding Principle
Prevention is easier and cheaper than remediation; the sooner a problem is fixed, the less expensive it becomes. The most recent example: passage of SB1 in April of 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown's $52 billion plan to fix the state's roads and bridges through an increase in gas taxes and other vehicle fees. It will take ten years to complete the job, but our infrastructure would only get worse, and more expensive to fix, if nothing were done. Despite short-term pain (gas taxes, construction detours), the Governor and legislature took the long view, essential to keeping California’s economy strong. Now it is time to do the same for early education and care.
The Current Challenge
Even more important than our infrastructure of roads and bridges, is our “humanstructure” of children aged birth to five. Our future rests in their hands, but that future is jeopardized by a lack of dependable early learning and care, and often poor pre-natal care, within low-income communities.
An irrefutable body of research confirms that a child’s opportunity to learn and develop in her first five years, and the physical health of expectant mothers, are crucial to healthy development that impacts cognitive, emotional, social and physical well-being. Insufficient maternal and early infant healthcare, and early childhood education through high quality child care and pre-school, results in more remedial education, increased school discipline issues and drop-out rates, higher unemployment and low-wage jobs, and more people imprisoned— all of which cost California taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in avoidable costs.
In 2013, the Governor’s State Advisory Council on Early Learning and Care released the California Comprehensive Early Learning Plan. The plan includes many important high-level recommendations, and is the result of much work by respected experts. However, the plan has not been implemented; it is the proverbial “dusty plan on shelf.” Even if it were in place, the 2013 plan would do little to restructure the current system. It is short on specifics, and it is not clear that it would result in more low-income children receiving crucial educational services at a younger age.
The truth is, if today we were to design a way to serve the needs of young children within California’s low-income communities, it would look nothing like our current system. Over the years our current system has been amended, curtailed, restored, politicized, tweaked, jerryrigged, improved, and reorganized. It would be difficult to find two people who agree on how it actually works. Services for young children vary county by county and within counties. In some rural areas and for some tribes, services may not exist or be miles away from families. In some urban areas the provision and quality of services runs the gamut from outstanding to unsafe.
Our uneven, under-financed system means that, for many children, the game is “fixed.” If children aren’t reading and computing at grade-level by third grade, the long-term odds are strongly against them. California needs to break the current cycle of inequality leading to illiteracy and to joblessness, and the unhappy downstream results for children and for taxpayers.
The Benefits of Prevention
In the spirit of SB1, California should invest up-front, providing appropriate healthcare for expectant mothers, and early and effective education for infants, toddlers, and other young children. The costs of a comprehensive system serving expectant mothers and young children will pay dividends for California taxpayers at a multiple of many times the cost.
A comprehensive, systemic, statewide program for young children and their expectant mothers would, like SB1, take advantage of the 1-10-100 rule. This rule describes the need to spend $1, or one hour, or one unit of expense, in order to accomplish a particular goal. Not spending this unit of expense will require a much larger eventual expenditure of $10, or 10 hours, etc. Failure to make even this expenditure will in turn require a huge cost—$100 or 100 hours or more. For example, in 1986 NASA might have spent a small dollar-amount to be sure its space shuttle O-ring seals were effective. Or, once on the test-pad, the O-rings still might have been fixed, but at greater cost. Ultimately, the problem with O-ring seals led to the Challenger Shuttle disaster, and the avoidable loss of seven lives.
Every year that we ignore the unmet needs of young children and the pre-natal health of their expectant mothers, we are subjecting California taxpayers to huge and avoidable expenses, while supporting the slow motion tragedy of miseducation leading to low levels of literacy, expensive remedial education, costly unemployment benefits, and increasing costs for new prisons and incarceration. In addition to being sound fiscal policy, a comprehensive program for expectant mothers and young children will result in happier, healthier and more successful families and adults. Thus, it is time for California to once again be a national model, designing and implementing a comprehensive plan to save millions of dollars, and nurturing the wellbeing of millions of lives.
It is time to revise and expand upon the 2013 Comprehensive Plan. The new plan will serve as a Blueprint for the Future, for the incoming Governor and California State Legislature in 2018. This time, the plan should be specific about a budget, action steps to be taken, metrics for success, and eventual cost-savings. The Governor should assign the task of creating the Blueprint to the SAC, with a budget sufficient to hire and direct the necessary staff. The SAC should collaborate with existing educational agencies and organizations serving young children and their families.
The Blueprint should draw upon good, existing data, such as the 2016 Right Start Commission Report, and the forthcoming report from the California Assembly Blue Ribbon Commission. In addition, the Blueprint should address, at a minimum, the following issues:
- Should the current K-12 system be expanded to serve all 4-year-olds, both 3 and 4-year olds, begin at birth, remain as is, etc.?
- Should the current system for providing early care and learning (currently child care and pre-school, a mix of public, private, subsidized) be changed, run by the state similar to K-12, remain as is, etc.?
- Should the method for financing child care and pre-schools be incorporated into Proposition 98, remain as is, etc.?
- How should K-12 districts collaborate with early learning professionals to insure a seamless transition for children?
- What process should be utilized to identify expectant mothers requiring special health and nutrition support?
- What types and amounts of health and nutrition support should expectant mothers receive, and through what process should they receive it?
This list of issues is not complete. The planning team may choose to address additional opportunities as it designs its Blueprint. As part of their process, the planning team should hold public hearings throughout the state, and invite written recommendations from health and education experts, state and local governments, labor unions, taxpayer groups, and the general public. Philanthropic organizations may wish to help sponsor this effort, and such sponsorships should be considered.
The final report of the team, once approved by the SAC, will serve as a Blueprint for the Future, for the next Governor and Legislature to consider, implement, monitor and improve. As with road and bridge repairs, the gains will not be immediately visible. But the need is clear, and the benefits to California, and to our most vulnerable children and families, are immense. We invite the Governor to plant the seed today, and to enjoy the legacy of a strong oak in the years ahead.