Too Few Preschools—What If Day Cares Were Smarter?
This is trying to. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The new White House is pumped the brakes on universal preschool instead President Donald Trump want to use tax credits to ease the burden of paying for child care. That means the current patchwork of preschools and daycare's in San Diego will likely stand for some time. The education reporter Megan. Looks at a effort to mend some of its holes. Maria Smith runs a childcare center at of her daughter's home. It is carpeted into sections. She said I'm not afraid of your pigtail. Across the room a white board and table for art in the corner a study area. A for-year-old plucks plastic bears at of a been and sets him up in a row. How many to have left? The job. Give me five. The child care business do not always look like this. 18 months ago a specialist came Vallee to grade and she felt. My grade was all the way down and I know I don't have what the kids needed. The childcare providers only the state to sign off on basic health and safety standard to get license. They were laid out for public you run out child centers. They have activities materials and with books and songs. She's with the YMCA and has been coaching Smith ever since the review. As part of a program led by the Senegal County office of education that's helping 40 childcare providers increase academic rigor. Participants receive one-on-one coaching and one books and iPads with software that tracks each child's development. Kids who are not meeting benchmarks get referral for outside services. The ever brings professionalism to a sector that's often dismissed as babysitting. It gives them a sense of belonging that they are important and not just like the state-funded programs are Headstart's that are important because they are providing that you can see she is full. Smith sees her first child at 6:00 a.m. in the Lasko's home at 11:00 at night. She is amongst for thousand childcare providers in Senegal County struggling to fill a persistent need. Together the centers in the public ones are only about to serve 30% of children with working parents. Early childhood education experts are working with what they have. So the childcare centers take on that much more of an important role. She is with United Way of San Diego County. They plan to have million dollar into the program. She says improving the quality of these childcare centers can level the playing field when kids get to kindergarten especially when it comes to language development. We know in low income homes that there are lower number of words heard every day and every year. That is because families are working multiple jobs to make ends meet and there is a dedicated time to be able to sit down and read with your kid. Reporter: Childcare centers are an important place to focus resources because what happens drives achievement in later years. We know that if kids are not reading at a level by the end of third grade, then there for my times less likely to graduate high school on time. Those seeds have already been planted years before. She says she is happy for the help she is receiving and want to do as much as you can for the children at her daycare. They are like my kids. They call me grandma. In May organizers will learn whether their efforts made a difference to the children but already they promised over $1 million to increase learning at the run because in the region. Meghan Burk, kpbs news. A little girl that we just heard in the story was attending preschool but she was pulled from the program after her parents got a pay raise and no longer qualified for subsidize preschool. It is the unintended consequences of California's minimum wage hike. Many families are finding themselves getting priced out of affordable preschool and daycare. San Diego assemblywoman Loretta Gonzales Fletcher is cosponsor of a bill to increase the states childcare subsidy limits and she joins me now. Fletcher welcome to the program. Hello. A very two parents making minimum wage working 40 hours a week now make a yearly income that squeaks pass the states limit for child care subsidies. Without the subsidy to these families have to pay considerably more from childcare expect they do and it's becomes a burden and a barrier to work. It's been 10 years since we've increase the levels of what people can make and I've only been in the assembly for three years but we increase the minimum wage twice in those three years. So we know that it is time to address this issue and ensure that nobody is getting rich if they are a minimum-wage family. Does not wipe out the pay raise? It does and that is a problem a lot of working-class folks have to face sometimes is if you don't get the subsidy is it even worth getting a little bit of an increase? We have to really address the issue. Childcare is still too expensive for most families and we are trying to find ways to make that more affordable and the subsidy is incredibly important for these families. Did you anticipate this would be a problem with the states minimum-wage increased in January? We always know that there are some issues that we have to deal with. I think what is required is to actually deal with them not just talk about them. So as we are facing this situation with a small increase in pay, we need to make sure that we are keeping up with our programs that key people working and that is what this is about. People need to understand subsidize healthcare is about ensuring people can work. We want to ensure that that program makes sense with the increases in minimum wage. You have introduced the girl that has change requirements. How would they change under your belt? There it would just increase the percentage of the state income that people can make in order to qualify. So 70% of them you have to be within 70%. That's not so different in some counties that already have this. The other thing that an assembly member the bill recording does is it says once were eligible you are eligible for a year. Right now the way the law is written every four months you have to meet the eligibility requirement. This is protective of children so if they're in the healthcare and their parents maybe get a little bit of a raise or the wage has changed slightly they are not going to be torn out of that childcare and that 12 month period. I think that is important for stability as well. The minimum wage is going to keep going up to $15 an hour do you want the subsidy limit to keep going up quick Yes, we have to make sure nobody can live off minimum-wage right now so we know that we have to continue to test it as a percentage of the average income so it will go up some but we need that to increase. Jerry Brown said the state need to be cautious about the spanning because we don't know what kind of support we will be getting from Washington. Given that the governor is urging the state to be fiscally conservative can the state afford to change the income limits you are proposing? I think the state can't afford not to change him. We are talking about people to continue to work and we know that people are able to work full-time and able to make a little bit more money and still keep the children subsidize care that that is better for the entire community. They will have to rely less on social services and other areas. Is just an investment we have to make. Do you think it's going to be a hard sell quick I don't think so. It says in the big question for the governor and sometimes in childcare we struggle a little bit. They don't necessarily see the everyday effect and necessity for some of the things we try to convince them up. As we heard, there was talk about universal preschool but all that has changed now. President Trump says he wants to use tax credits to help monies pay for childcare. How do you see those federal policies affecting families in California? It is very tough for our lowest wage workers. A tax credit is not going to provide the same sort of abilities to keep your child in childcare. So we need universal preschool. We know that it works. It is something that we know that if we provided preschool for every single child and had a quality that they will do better in the long run. So we put into that today whether we do as a stay on her own or I guess without federal government intervention that that money is money we are going to saved on the line because those kids will be better prepared for school and be more likely to stay in school and less likely to go to prison. I think it is a good investment and so -- one that we have to remind people. I've been speaking with LLerena Gonzales Fletcher. Thank you so much.
A 4-year-old named Evelyn plucks small plastic bears from a bin and lines them up in a neat row.
"One, two, three," she counts, pointing to each one.
"Now if we give two to Tina, how many do you have left?" asks Gloria Smith. Evelyn pushes two of the bears aside and counts again.
Smith runs a childcare center out of her daughter's La Mesa home. The family room is carved up into sections — the study area for math and science, a stocked bookcase and floor cushions for reading, and a whiteboard and craft table for art.
Smith's business didn't always look like this. About 18 months ago, a specialist came by to grade it. Smith isn't shy about the results.
"All the way down, 'F,'" she said. "I failed. I know I didn't have what the kids needed."
The review was voluntary. Family childcare providers like Smith only need the state to sign off on basic health and safety standards to get licensed. The "F" grades were for standards laid out for publicly run childcare centers such as Head Start and preschools.
"We focus on the environment — that they have age-appropriate activities and materials," said Kathy Isidoro, a childcare consultant. "But we also focus on the interaction — that they have positive redirection with (the children), that they're using the proper tone, that there's a language-rich environment with books and songs."
Isidoro is with the YMCA Childcare Resource Service and has been coaching Smith ever since the bad review. It is part of a program led by the San Diego County Office of Education that's helping 40 family childcare providers in San Diego increase academic rigor for 423 children at their sites.
In the absence of universal preschool — California lawmakers have resisted calls for such an expensive initiative and President Donald Trump favors tax credits to help parents afford childcare — early childhood education experts are working with what they've got.
In San Diego County, that is a patchwork of 3,693 family childcare providers and 960 of the more formal child care centers, according to the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network. And it is struggling to fill a persistent need. Together, these centers are only able to serve about 30 percent of children with working parents.
"So the childcare centers take on that much more of an important role," said Shaina Gross of United Way of San Diego County. The nonprofit put $500,000 into the two-year program.
In addition to one-on-one coaching, participants receive 100 books, money for materials and iPads with software that tracks each child's development. Kids who aren't meeting benchmarks get referrals for outside services, something that might not happen until kindergarten for children in home-based childcare.
"Think about if you have an extra two or three years to work on something," Gross said. Improving the quality of these lower-cost childcare centers, she said, can level the playing field when kids get to kindergarten, especially when it comes to language development.
"We know in low-income homes there are a lower number of words heard every day, every year," Gross said. "Often that's because families are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. There isn't dedicated time to sit down and read with your kids."
Not reading enough to children is a problem, because what happens in early childhood drives achievement in later years.
"We know that if kids aren't reading at grade level by the end of third grade then they're four times less likely to graduate high school on time," Gross said. "But that doesn't all happen in third grade. Those seeds have already been planted years before."
Day care provider Smith has enough copies of the books she reads aloud that the children can follow along. And she sends them home with folders full of worksheets so parents can see their progress.
In May, the program organizers will get assessment results that will tell them whether their efforts have made a difference in the children.
But Isidoro said there is already a noticeable difference among the family childcare providers, who often are dismissed as babysitters.
"It gives them a sense of belonging, that they're part of this group, that they're important and it's not just the state-funded programs," Isidoro said. "Because they are providing an important service. Like, you can see she's full."
Smith sees her first child at 6 a.m. The last goes home at 11 p.m. But she isn't complaining. Smith said she wants to do as much as she can for the children in her day care.
"They're not like my day care kids, they're like my kids, and they call me grandma," she said. "My granddaughter calls me Gloria, but the rest call me grandma."
Parents can find participating childcare centers by calling the YMCA's childcare referral line, 800-481-2151. They are located predominantly in City Heights and Vista.
But there may soon be a much longer list of family childcare providers who meet the more stringent standards. Advocates are pushing for the state to begin rating all childcare centers the way it does preschools. In the meantime, the state has promised $1.6 million to expand the program in San Diego County.