Analysts give mixed grade to governor's plans to overhaul preschool

Childcare provider Felipa Menbreno works with 2-year-old Selena on a Valentine's Day art project at Rivas Family Child Care in Reseda on Friday morning, Feb. 13.
Childcare provider Felipa Menbreno works with 2-year-old Selena on a Valentine's Day art project at Rivas Family Child Care in Reseda on Friday morning, Feb. 13.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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The governor's plans to overhaul California’s disjointed and complicated childcare system received mixed reviews Wednesday from the state's nonpartisan fiscal and policy advisor, the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO.) 

Last month Gov. Jerry Brown released his budget plan, which included a proposal to consolidate the state's early learning funding streams and preschool programs into one "Early Learning Block Grant." Details released in January by the Governor's office were broad strokes, with a series of "stakeholder" meetings promised to get feedback and flesh out the plan.

Wednesday's report from the LAO is the first in-depth analysis of the known details of the plan.

The report finds some good ideas tucked in the governor’s proposal. It generally approves of the idea of eliminating the confusion and merging all the various childcare programs in the state under one umbrella. The LAO also credits the governor's focus on directing preschool and childcare services to the most needy kids.

However, the report found some serious issues with the block grant proposal.

Specifically, analysts took issue with the proposal to have local agencies set their own requirements for which children will qualify for subsidized preschool.

"We are concerned," the report states, "that allowing income eligibility to be defined locally and basing funding on historical allocations would create inequities among school districts in terms of who is served and how much funding districts have for each child."

Cristina Alvarado, who runs the Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles, said she agrees with that analysis. She said she worries that if each local school district determines how poor a family must be to qualify for free childcare, the system will become "chaotic."

Imagine the inequities, Alvarado said, if in one school district a child might qualify for free preschool but, in the next city that sets its eligibility higher, that same child would be out of luck.

"How is that going to work when we have very mobile families that go across the county?" Alvarado asked.

Alvarado said that her organization's childcare agencies, which provide subsidized childcare to 40,000 LA children each month, already see many low-income families mired in confusion as they move frequently and try to navigate different preschool providers. If local agencies determine eligibility, Alvarado said, things will be worse.

While the price tag for the governor's block grant is $1.6 billion, it only adds $95 million in new funds to the early ed pot of money. That's only about 3 percent more than last year, the report states. Most of the larger number comes from consolidating all of the existing early childcare funds into one pool.

The LAO analysis made suggestions to the Governor and Legislature for improving the system.

Key recommendations include: