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With the budget deal, California's Poor Children Given Critical Boost in School Funding — But Still Need More Investments in the Early Years

It’s a new day in California. After going more than ten years with only a single budget deal, the state is on track to meet the June 15th deadline to pass a comprehensive state budget. Coming in at a hefty $96.3 billion dollars, the budget deal – made with Senate and Assembly Leaders Darrell Steinberg and John Perez – represents major progress for much of the state, but also quickly underscores the work we still have yet to complete.

First, some good news:

  • As a whole, the budget remains in the black, with a healthy surplus and over $1 billion dollars set away in state contingency funds.
  • Dental care to low-income adults may be restored with nearly $80 million.
  • The budget compromise completes a multi-year effort on behalf of the Governor to overhaul the way California spends money on K-12 schools. The proposed deal, called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), preserves many of the details of the Governor’s plan including:
  • Increasing state spending on schools by $4 billion;
  • Additional state dollars to school districts for each low-income (LI) or English leaner (EL) student; and
  • A “concentration” grant of additional state funds if a school district’s population of LI or EL students in a district tops 55 percent.

 

The LCFF is a big win for California’s kids, given that school districts will now see additional funding based on their students’ needs while at the same time, no school district in the state will lose out on any funds in coming years. This is particularly important given the wide disparities in the incidence of poverty across the state, as we’ve mentioned in our report on poverty in California. 

These are welcome reforms that not only assist families in California, but begin to equitably distribute school funding so that, over time, children are not the victims of inequitable funding based solely on where they go to school.  

Yet there is significant room for improvement in the budget and the State Legislature would be wise to reconsider some of the proposed deals.

For example, the compromise budget rejects the $50 million proposed by the Senate to expand Medi-Cal for kids. Additionally, funds for early childhood education programs in the state were increased by only $30 million (more than the Governor’s $1.2 million in his May Revision, but significantly lower than the Assembly’s proposed $100 million). This $30 million an increase, but only a dent in the $1 billion multi-year cuts these programs have received over the last five years.

In fact, California is 24th in the nation in terms of its access to pre-K among 4-year-olds, which is a sad fact given that overwhelming scientific study has shown that pre-school is a near sure bet that alters the life course for children while saving society billions of dollars over the lifetime of a child.

While the Governor and legislative leaders have made some progress, failure to invest early in the lives of children and their families – through child care and early education – actually weakens the reforms they’ve made to health insurance coverage and K-12 education. Without resting these deals on a solid foundation of future growth through early investments, they are more likely to act as piecemeal solutions to the broader challenge of creating a better future for children. 

As legendary child advocate Marian Wright Edelman suggests, “Investing in children is not a … luxury or … choice. It’s a national necessity.” We urge the Governor and state legislature to take the long-view.

While they’ve made progress today, their constituents of tomorrow are still waiting.      

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