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Governor’s Budget A Boon For Early Education, But Help Is Already Coming To San Diego Parents

A child at the Mesa Child Development Center puts her finger to her lips as p...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: A child at the Mesa Child Development Center puts her finger to her lips as part of a routine to bring students from controlled chaos outside to upright and facing forward inside, April 13, 2017.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal includes nearly $2 billion to improve access to early education in California. But some improvements are already coming to San Diego County.

A 2017 law allowed the San Diego County Office of Education to tailor state rules around child care subsidies to better fit San Diego parents. The changes were approved in December and will roll out soon.

Among them, parents will no longer have to certify their income annually for preschool subsidies. The rule had resulted in some parents losing their subsidies if they received even a modest raise at work.

RELATED: California Governor Offers $144 Billion Budget, Ups Savings

“Just because I receive 15 cents more an hour, my child may not be eligible,” Lucia Garay said of the old rule. Garay is the executive director of early education programs for the county office of education.

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The San Diego Quality Preschool Initiative rates participating preschools, infant and toddler centers and family daycares.

Local child care and preschool providers will also soon get a higher reimbursement rate for the services they offer. Garay said it’s not a huge increase, but enough to contend with the county’s minimum wage increases and keep doors open.

The changes come on top of a statewide increase to the ceiling used to determine eligibility for preschool subsidies. It went from $58,524 for a family of four to $71,065 last year. The state also began allowing children to enroll in state-subsidized preschool immediately when they turn 3 years old instead of waiting until the next enrollment period. Garay said that’s better for the 3-year-old and will free up daycare space for younger children.

Garay said she hopes the changes will lead to more parents accessing child care subsidies.

“We were looking at $11 million a year unused in our county and what we're hoping is that, with full implementation, there will be full use of the money allocated to our county,” she said.

The changes do not address one of the biggest barriers to accessing preschool: Most programs are only offered half-day. Parents who work full time or have non-traditional work hours have a hard time accessing part-day programs.

In his budget proposal Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed $125 million to open 200,000 more full-day slots. A quarter of kindergartens in the state are also half-day. Newsom proposed $750 million to address that.

RELATED: Gov. Newsom Wants Free Community College; San Diego Colleges Want To Make It Truly Free

Other budget proposals would increase Cal Grants awarded to parent students, increase child care options on college campuses, train up daycare providers to offer better quality programs, and invest in child care facilities. Newsom’s ultimate goal is to provide universal preschool.

The legislature must still approve Newsom’s proposals, but Garay is hopeful they will. Newsom himself is a working parent who was famously upstaged by his toddler during his inaugural address Monday. Garay said it was a sign of good things to come for early education.

“If there’s a reality about a working parent, like, there it is,” she said. “Although not everything may be possible within the budget, there will be serious consideration by people that do get it.”

A pilot program run out of the San Diego County Office of Education aims to increase the number of parents who utilize state preschool subsidies.

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