Take Two®

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After years of cuts to California early childhood programs, will sequester add more pain?

by Deepa Fernandes | Take Two®

A teacher at Jardín de Niños plays with kids at the school in Lincoln Heights, which receives funding from the California Department of Education. Mae Ryan/KPCC

Some California families do not have to imagine what the impact of sequestration might be. Subsidized early childhood education programs in California have already been cut by 40 percent over the past five years, leaving thousands of poor families without access, according to Laura Escobedo of the Los Angeles County Office of Childcare .

She said early childhood education programs across the state have suffered proportionately higher cuts than other areas of the state budget.

RELATED: Sequestration timeline

Before the recession of 2008, the state spent roughly $2 billion on Early Childhood education. Now California spends about $1.1 billion. The money comes from a mix of state funds and federal dollars from the Head Start and TANF programs.

The impact of $1 billion in cuts has been dramatic. A coalition of advocacy and data groups, including the Advancement Project/Healthy City, First Five LA, mapped where the seats were lost, neighborhood by neighborhood. The Los Angeles Children’s Data Network found that Los Angeles County suffered the biggest loss of child care seats in the state: 11,200.

“What the analysis definitely bears out is that several low income communities are bearing more than their fair share of the burden and have been hit much more harshly than others,” Patillo-Brownson said.  

Roughly 100,000 slots have disappeared statewide--roughly one quarter of the spots that were offered in 2008 , according to Kim Patillo Brownson, Director of Educational Equity at the Advancement Project .

“At the end of last year, that left us in a situation where four out of five children no longer have access to early care and education programs,” Patillo-Brownson said.

Advocates said they're concerned about what sequestration cuts will mean for the already dwindling care options, should they come through. The Obama Administration has warned that the Head Start program will be cut by around $400 million. That would eliminate about 70,000 children from the program nationwide, and almost 12,000 here in California. 

What advocates for early childhood education fear most is that the communities that have already been hardest hit will continue to receive the brunt of further cuts.

The California Children’s Academy  runs 15 child care and preschool centers in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. That’s fewer than it used to. The state-funded provider that has had to close centers and lay off staff over the past several years due to funding cuts.

Most recently the it closed its center in Whittier – one of the areas hardest hit by the budget cuts. Executive director KC Brown and her staff said they've had to tell parents that there is no longer a slot available .

“The parents don't have the resources to put the children somewhere else," she said. "They’d have to quit their job or they’d have to quit school in order to stay home and take care of their children.” 

In response, she and other providers have mounted organizing and lobbying efforts to avoid more cuts. Brown, along with parents and teachers, have traveled to Sacramento to “advocate for the children in our program.”  

It appears the pressure has worked. This year, Governor Jerry Brown’s 1492 page budget proposal kept preschool spending the same for the coming fiscal year.

It was a short-lived victory. Advocates are staring down the barrel of automatic cuts to federal dollars which will kick in Friday if legilators in Washington fail to reach a budget compromise, something that is seeming more and more unlikely.

This is something that Andrea Joseph dreads thinking about. She attended one of the California Children’s Academy programs in Lincoln Heights when she was a toddler. She now runs the center and is the Vice President for Education at the Academy. (Hear more about her story in the radio feature attached to this story.)

Advocates like Brown and Patillo-Brownson emphasize that cutting early education for poor kids will impact all children. More and more economists are joining that choir.

Nobel laureate economist from the University of Chicago, James Heckman , has made news proving that a low-income child that receives quality pre-school instruction will have a higher IQ and brighter economic future than one that doesn’t. And that, he argues, improves everyone’s prosperity.

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