Gov. Gavin Newsom and kindergartner Priscilla Ramirez looks over the book Planting a Rainbow, by Lois Ehlert during his visit to the Ethel I. Baker Elementary School in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. During his visit Newsom took the occasion to sign legislation to place a $15 billion bond measure on the March 2020 ballot for school construction and modernization projects. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool)

Unless the federal government comes to California’s aid, the coronavirus has set back most of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s big investments in preschool to levels not seen since before he took office.

On Thursday, Newsom announced changes not only to his 2020-21 budget proposals, but also cuts to many of last year’s investments in early education.

Newsom, who has four young children himself, came to office with expanding early childhood programs as his major priority. He was lauded last year for his infusion of close to $2 billion for early education and children’s services in the 2019-20 budget. He added funding for 10,000 more low-income 4-year-olds, with plans to add additional 20,000 over the next two years. He also expanded child care subsidies for low-income children ages 12 and younger, as well as invested in building more child care and preschool facilities and full-day kindergarten classrooms and training more early childhood educators.

Now, much of that is all but erased. Newsom’s new budget proposes to eliminate the 10,000 state-subsidized preschool slots that had beenscheduled to open last month and the 10,000 additional slots proposed for April 2021. The $300 million from last year’s budget to help districts build or renovate more full-day kindergarten classrooms — gone. The same is true for much of the funding for training more child care providers and building more preschool classrooms.

The budget also cuts new funding Newsom had proposed in January for the 2020-21 budget, which would have expanded the number of preschool classrooms to serve preschoolers with special needs and created a new department for early learning and care. He also proposes to cut some of the funding for the new Early Childhood Policy Council, charged with providing recommendations to him, the Legislature and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond on how to improve the state’s child care and preschool systems.

In addition, Newsom is proposing to cut by 10 percent the monthly payments the state sends to preschools and child care providers who care for low-income children and slash a proposed cost-of-living adjustment.

“It was definitely a gut punch to see the reductions to the reimbursement rates, particularly in this COVID crisis,” said Mary Ignatius, statewide organizer for Parent Voices, a parent-led organization that advocates for more subsidized child care. “What we’re hearing from providers all over the place, whether they are in a child care center or a family child care home, they are on razor-thin margins. They are on the brink of closure. To have this proposed reduction looming, I think is going to add another layer of trepidation and fear.”

The proposed budget would preserve subsidies for low-income children who are already receiving subsidized child care or preschool, and would also keep funding from a federal grant for child care to give subsidies to an additional 5,600 low-income children.

What is known as the “May Revise” also details how Newsom proposes to spend about $350 million from the federal CARES Act for child care during the COVID-19 crisis. Under the proposal, some of that money would reimburse the state for the money it has spent to pay for free child care for up to 20,000 children of essential workers, as well as for gloves, masks and cleaning supplies for child care providers. In addition, Newsom proposes to spend $125 million for one-time stipends for child care providers who are open for the children of essential workers, and children who have special needs, are homeless, in foster care or at-risk for domestic violence, and $73 million to provide subsidies for more children.

Children’s advocates said they were glad to see that there were no cuts proposed to subsidies for low-income children already receiving care. But they strongly opposed the cuts proposed, especially for training new child care providers, building new child care centers, and the reduction in payments for subsidized child care providers.

There is growing concern that many child care centers and homes will not survive extended closures or loss of tuition payments with fewer children, as the shelter-in-place orders continue.

“Early childhood education occupies a fairly unique spot in that we are also part of the recovery. Simply put if people don’t have child care, we can’t go back to work,” said Bill Sperling, chief executive officer of Child360, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles that provides training and advocacy for child care providers. “Kicking this down the road is just going to delay recovery, not speed it up.”

Some advocates are calling on the Legislature to minimize cuts to early education. One organization, Advancement Project California, wants the state to analyze which communities have the most child care programs closed and the largest number of low-income children who have not had access to early education or care during the shelter-in-place order, and invest in those communities that have been hit the hardest.

“We’re seeing child care and school closures, and growing hardships around the deepening of hunger, homelessness and educational challenges that our black, Latinx and Native American children and their families are experiencing disproportionately,” said Karla Pleitéz Howell, managing director of policy and programs for Advancement Project California.

Story originally published by EdSource.

Zaidee Stavely