Fewer spots will be available for the youngest possible students in the coming fall due to state cuts, but the changes will allow for most facilities to remain open.
Throughout California, early education programs have consistently been on the chopping blocks despite the continuous release of studies supporting the benefits of an early investment. Early education and preschool— programs serving children under 6 years old — were discussed as possible cuts for the fall. Gov. Jerry Brown’s final budget doesn’t close facilities, which local officials originally feared. However, the new budget will cut the number of spots for children, create more work for local administrators and likely mean district will not know how many students it will be serving until the school year starts.
Over the past two years, early care and education in San Mateo County has suffered $1 million in cuts, said County Superintendent Anne Campbell.
"We used to have 880 children participating in state preschool programs; with the current cuts it looks as though we’ll only have 680 state preschool slots when we start the new school year. With the cuts that have occurred over the past several years, early care and education programs throughout San Mateo County have been severely affected. The first six years of life are so critical for cognitive development and school readiness, we ought to be investing in this key age group rather than decimating the programs that serve them,” she said.
In earlier versions of the proposed budget, it looked like cuts would result in the closure of facilities. Thankfully that’s no longer the case, said Nirmala Dillman, Child Care Partnership Council coordinator for the San Mateo County Office of Education. In addition, the requirements to get access to services also didn’t change. How these services are funded, however, did change.
One result is that districts will need to examine charging a fee to low-income families. The fee is meant to make up for cuts, but it may create an obstacle for local districts and families. Dillman explained this is challenging since parents already enrolled their children. At the time of enrollment, there was no possible fee. Now districts will need to check to see if the family’s income means they will need to pay a fee. Then, notices will need to be mailed out to parents, said Dillman. That creates issues for districts who will are faced with doing additional work with no extra funds. Also, Dillman noted, districts aren’t set up to take fees.
Losing spots is always a concern for local districts. The hope is to not turn families away but to get to the lower number of students through attrition, said Dillman.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.