A new report estimates that the economic toll on Los Angeles County from the loss of funding for thousands of preschool seats later this year will be almost $600 million annually.
Funding for nearly 11,000 preschool seats is going to run out in June when Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) loses its backing from the public early years agency First 5 L.A. But the report, by the independent research organization the Institute for Child Success, looked at the impact beyond lost educational opportunities.
ICS included in its analysis the preschool seats that LAUSD announced last year would be ending this June through a program called the School Readiness Language Development Program (SRLDP).
“The cost of cutting high quality pre-K in Los Angeles county will exceed the program dollars saved,” said ICS executive vice president Joe Waters.
LAUP currently spends $59.1 million on preschool contracts that fund 11,000 seats. After the First 5 LA funding expires, LAUP's budget will drop from $93.5 million to $29.9 million.
LAUP commissioned (and partly funded) the ICS report to investigate the broader economic impacts of the loss of preschool seats. Joe Waters said LAUP only provided program data his researchers requested and had no editorial input into the reporting process.
The report’s findings, released Tuesday, examine three main areas where the act of a child attending preschool will trickle into the local economy and provide a boost.
It starts with the employment of teachers, aides, cooks and other staff at LAUP funded centers. The report calculates the money these childcare businesses and employees will spend and finds the loss of this purchasing power will be a hit to the local economy.
Secondly, the report calculates the money that will be lost because parents might no longer work due to the loss of their childcare option. This will also mean less buying power and less money spent in the local economy. “When [childcare] is unavailable parents are unable to go work or they have to piece together childcare arrangements, it becomes a great burden on working families and the consequence of that is reduced productivity and reduced economic activity in the broader community,” Waters said.
Finally, the report also calculated longer term economic impact based on researchers' belief that children missing preschool are less prepared for elementary school and may never really catch up, leaving them “unprepared for college or the labor market,” the report states.
“By 2020, two-thirds of U.S. jobs will require at least some post-secondary education," the report states. "But, at present, only 19 percent of L.A. County 11th graders are ready for English coursework at a California state college and only 13 percent are prepared for college coursework in math.” Without preschool, children may be even less successful in school leading to a future of low paying jobs, which also impacts economic activity and productivity.
The report also finds the impact of the cuts will have a disparate impact on women of color who make up the majority of workers in the childcare field impacted by the cuts. Childcare businesses, Waters said, “are often lead by women and started by women, and minority women at that.”
Waters said many of the women of color run centers have been successful because they provide a tailored “service that families need [and families] often want to seek out a center that speaks to them culturally and that’s part of their community.”
Advocates have lamented that losing so many preschool seats will also decimate the childcare infrastructure of the county. “This is not just about the economic impact,” Waters said, “it is also about the quality of the childcare infrastructure in L.A. County.”
Waters predicts workers will leave the childcare field if they can’t find work.
“It will be very difficult should replacement funding become available to move those workers back into childcare jobs a year or two down the road because they might not still necessarily be available in L.A. County," Waters said. "Then what we are left with is a very poor infrastructure should replacement funding become available and what remains will be of lower quality.”
As KPCC has reported, the terms of the First 5 L.A.’s funding to LAUP have been known for some years, and the First 5 L.A. Board reiterated last year that there would be no further renewal funding for the preschool seats.
Since then, LAUP executives and staff have been working with its network of preschool providers to find alternative funding, including support to apply directly for state funding, said LAUP's chief executive officer Celia Ayala.
State preschool contracts from the department of education are being announced and some of LAUP's providers have been selected to receive funding.
LAUP also began targeted work with local school districts and preschool providers to lobby for Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) dollars to be directed to early education slots. “The good news story is that for over 4,000 children we have found other sources of funding," Ayala said.
Yet she laments that thousands of seats will not be refunded come September. “It’s a sad sad day,” Ayala said, “when you have to think about taking apart something that is so wonderful and so beneficial especially to children.”
Here's a map of all of the preschools in L.A. County with LAUP contracts set to expire in June: