There is overwhelming evidence that children’s early years, from birth through preschool, are a crucial time for their development, and that high-quality early learning opportunities support children’s school readiness, promote later life success, and yield a return of up to $7 for every $1 invested. Unfortunately, despite having the sixth-largest economy in the world, California lags behind many states and developed countries in providing early care and education (ECE). In fact, in 2015–16, 1 million California children qualified for subsidized ECE, but only a third of them received services.
Providing access to high-quality ECE for all children in the state will require a comprehensive approach to turning an uncoordinated set of underfunded programs into a true system of supports for children, families, and providers. A complement to LPI’s earlier report Understanding California’s Early Care and Education System, this report examines the challenges California’s counties face in providing ECE and provides recommendations for improving access to high-quality ECE for all children.
The report examines the ECE practices in 10 counties that vary by region, population density, and child care affordability, and features examples of promising practices. It describes the landscape of ECE at the local level as it is shaped by federal and state policies. Recommendations in the report address four key areas:
- Building a coherent ECE administration system that includes a state-level governing body to coordinate all programs, a county or regional level body to streamline ECE administration at that level, and a one-stop shop for parents to find care and providers to recruit families.
- Making ECE affordable for all children up to age 5 through universal preschool for 4-year-olds, a sliding scale to ensure affordable preschool for all 3-year-olds, and subsidized child care on a sliding scale for infants and toddlers.
- Building a well-qualified ECE workforce by increasing expectations and support for higher education and training, continuing to raise reimbursement rates to increase wages, and changing the reimbursement rate structure so that programs that require higher credentials for staff are also able to pay higher wages.
- Improving the quality of all ECE programs by raising quality requirements for programs with the lowest standards, ensuring all state-supported programs are able to participate in quality improvement activities, and ensuring coaching and other professional supports for staff are offered to programs with state funding.