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Let’s Invest in Quality Child Care If We Want to Reap High Returns

With legislative committees rushing to finish up budget proposals this week, we’ve been hearing questions about whether the budget will be stretched to include new investments in early childhood education. It’s a good place for these conversations, alongside other important priorities like health, transportation, roads, and safety: the things that we need government for.

From the outside of that process, we try to provide the best information possible to those who make the decisions. Along these lines, the California Budget Project just released a great piece entitled “Five Things You Need to Know About California’s Child Care Development System.” Number one on that list is how high-quality child care and preschool programs help kids in poverty in powerful ways.

Quality early childhood education is very expensive, and may seem to some like a nice-to-have, but non- essential item in the state’s budget. But actually it has a lot of similarities with other spending proposals. Like building higher-quality roads that need to be replaced less frequently, or paying more for an energy-efficient appliance because it will yield savings in the long run, quality early education opportunities give kids the boost in brain development that will help them live up to their potential. And that’s good for all of us.

Paying for quality early education means you haven’t chosen the cheap model for short-term savings that you’ll regret later on down the line.

Of course, low-income families cannot act on this kind of reasoning: they just don’t have the cash. Only thoughtful government programs can level the playing field, so that all children have the best odds for success.

Some legislators in Sacramento are working really hard right now to make that happen. They are proposing a year of high quality transitional kindergarten for all low-income four year olds. Eligibility would be the same as that of the free and reduced lunch program, which is household income of 185% of the federal poverty level or less, or about $44,000 for a family of four. At that level, families struggle to pay for the basics for their children, yet they do not qualify for many of the state and federal programs targeted to people in deeper poverty.

Curious about how many kids in your county would qualify for this program? Check out the handy map here, which will tell you exactly that. It also tells you where the most low-income children in the state live (spoiler alert: LA), and what percent of all children are low-income in each county. You may be surprised to see how high that percent is in some counties – and how many children we may be able to set off on a stronger beginning.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2008-2012

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