More than 260 preschool and child care centers in L.A. County are losing a key funding source this month, sending teachers, parents and providers scrambling to fill the gap.
The loss of funds is not a surprise. It's the result of an expiring contract between the non-profit Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) -- which funds the programs -- and the group First 5 L.A., which allocates money from California's Prop 10 tobacco tax.
The preschools and child care centers had been receiving funds from the contract for more than a decade. Now there's uncertainty about whether some will stay open.
"It becomes an economic impact," said Celia Ayala, CEO of LAUP. "Not only for the future of the children, but for the future of many people who work in early care and education."
Last year, LAUP-funded preschools and child care centers served over 10,000 children, receiving $12 million in workforce funds and another $50 million for direct costs, Ayala said. Since it began, the program has provided funding for over 125,000 preschool children in L.A. County, according to First 5 LA.
Some providers have been able to secure funding to fill the gap through the California State Preschool Program (CSPP). For example, the non-profit Children's Bureau and the Baldwin Park Unified School District told KPCC in April that they had been successful in securing CSPP funds to bridge some of the gap.
"I feel positive that we will be able to serve, of the 10,000, possibly over 6,000 children," said Ayala of LAUP. "But I don't know exactly where we are with the remaining 4,000 – how many [providers] will ultimately not be available for families in L.A. County."
Unlike other preschool or school-site programs, private child care providers are not eligible for CSPP funding. Ayala said she's already heard from at least 10 providers that are closing and more may be coming.
In Rowland Heights, the Joy of Learning Academy has been teaching children for more than two decades, but owner Claudia Mendoza said the loss of LAUP funding has forced her to make big changes. She's cutting back on classes, laying off some of her staff and heading into an uncertain fall.
"It's so hard thinking that your work is not appreciated," said Mendoza. Her business began getting LAUP funds in 2005 and she estimates that 400 children have come to her center through the program, which usually has two classes of 12 kids each for nearly four hours, Monday through Friday.
"Our parents appreciate our program, our families, [and] just seeing the kids and how will they do is kind of our reward and our motivation to keep going," she said.
Mendoza joined other private child care centers in the area over a year ago to apply for state preschool funds, but they were denied. She's been meeting with local school officials and is starting to advertise to parents who may be able to afford the private cost of her program. With the cuts, she's even contemplating closing her doors.
"Most likely with the enrollment I have, I won't be able to have my other teacher," she said. Her business also employs a cook for the freshly made meals her students get twice a day.
Some providers have raised concern about the loss of jobs that could come from closures or cut-backs at preschools and daycare centers.
A report released in April by the Institute for Child Success, and funded partly by LAUP, found that the loss of preschool seats could go beyond lost education opportunities and hit local economies. The cuts will also have an especially strong impact on women of color who make up the majority of workers in the childcare field, the study found.