A barrier removed for low-income parents seeking education

This file photo shows children playing on a preschool playground.
This file photo shows children playing on a preschool playground.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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There's a new law on the books in California that will remove a barrier for low-income parents aiming to access education. Under a bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, poor parents enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) or high school equivalency courses will be eligible for subsidized child care. 

California’s existing education code said parents who meet certain income criteria and are "engaged in vocational training leading directly to a recognized trade" could receive subsidized child care. Even though parents may need ESL or G.E.D. classes as a prerequisite, the law was not clear on whether those courses qualified.

"This law was being unevenly implemented across the state," said Jennifer Greppi, lead organizer for Parent Voices, California. "Some [child care] agencies saw it very clearly as a step towards a vocational training or goal. Others were like, 'Nope! Those don't count.' "

AB 273, co-sponsored by Parent Voices and the Women's Foundation of California, adds language that parents are eligible to receive child care if they are "engaged in an educational program for English language learners or to attain a high school diploma or general educational development certificate." The Department of Education will send out a bulletin to all child care and preschool programs they fund to make sure families are no longer turned away. 

It's hard to know how many families have been turned away in the past or how many likely to take advantage now that the law has changed, but there's potential for a big impact. California has the highest share of adults with limited English proficiency and the lowest share of adults with a high school diploma, compared to other states, according to the California Budget and Policy Center. More than half of low-income children in the state – 1.6 million – have parents who have limited English proficiency and/or do not have a high school diploma.

"It’s important that we opened it up so that families gain those skills and be able to move forward," said Greppi. 

Child care expenses can hold parents back, eating up over two-thirds of the income of the average single mother, according to the California Budget and Policy Center. 

Making this change around child care eligibility was a priority for its author Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, who was a single mother herself. 

"I was a single mother who raised two young girls and I know how difficult it is to find the money to scrap together for your child care," she said at a press conference. "If you can't afford child care, it's difficult to move on. If you can't learn English on get your GED, you can't pursue higher education or enter job training." 

This legislation is one of eight bills authored by members of the California Legislative Women's Caucus that Governor Jerry Brown signed in law last week.