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Child care cuts and kindergarten readiness

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photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group

Readers, how I’ve neglected you this week… I blame the impossibly complex nature of California’s child care system, which faces a 20 percent cut for the upcoming fiscal year.

I’ve spent the last 48 hours trying to figure out what the governor’s May budget revision would mean for working families (mostly single parents and their kids) and the system as a whole, how it differs from the original budget proposal in January, and how the different programs work now. In addition to tracking down facts and figures, I’ve been interviewing people from around the Bay Area who receive child care subsidies — and, finally, trying to put it all together into a somewhat readable format. (I don’t normally include acknowledgements, but Carlise King, the research director for the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, must have devoted almost as time as I did in this endeavor, helping me find those numbers and very, very patiently explaining what they meant.)

You can read the story here.

As I talked to parents, including a single dad from San Ramon whose quote didn’t make it into the story, I was struck by the reality of single parenthood. All of the people I interviewed had white collar jobs — an administrative assistant, a facilities manager, an insurance salesman/customer service rep. If the proposal is enacted, all of them will lose their child care subsidies.

If that happens, the dad from San Ramon and his daughter will probably move in with Grandma in Discovery Bay; the administrative assistant will rely on relatives to watch her 3-year-old, rather than an educational setting; and the other mother still hasn’t figured out a Plan B.

Child care is often framed in terms of accessibility — the number of slots available to kids, and eligibility levels for families. But the other side of the equation is the quality of the program. Experts say the proposed cuts are so deep they fear that poor children — even those whose parents retain their benefit — will have access only to the relatives-and-neighbors variety of care, rather than the kind that will get them academically and socially ready for school.

A couple of months ago, I cited a long-term study that shined light on the potential benefits of excellent pre-k programs:

For decades, researchers with the Perry Preschool Study followed a group of 123 low-income African Americans from Ypsilanti, Mich., who were 3 or 4 years old in the 1960s. Some children were randomly assigned to the same high-quality preschool program, and the others weren’t.

When tested at age 5, those in the preschool group were more than twice as likely to have IQs of 90 or higher (67 percent vs. 28 percent) than those who didn’t. By age 14, they were more than three times as likely to have reached a basic achievement level. They were less likely to be placed in special education programs, more likely to graduate from high school and, as adults, to be employed. They were also less likely to be arrested for violent crimes.

The study’s cost-benefit analysis found that for every dollar invested in the preschool program, $16 was returned — $12.90 of it to the public, mostly from crime saving and increased taxes as result of higher earnings.

It seems that the budget crisis has forced California to move in the opposite direction. K-12 teachers: Are you ready for what may lie ahead?