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June 22, 2010 > Tri-City supporters in Sacramento for Early Learning Advocacy Day

Tri-City supporters in Sacramento for Early Learning Advocacy Day

Group stresses the need to preserve jobs and full-day education for children and working families

By Robin Michel
Photos By courtesy of Robin Michel

"Any day now" became the mantra of the Third Annual Early Learning Advocacy Day held June 15 at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento when over 400 supporters of early education and child care for working families converged on the state capitol to hear from experts in the field, as well as share their personal stories with legislators.

Keynote speaker Superintendent Charles, Santa Clara County Office if Education, pointed to the "Seize the Moment for California's Youngest Children" banner behind the stage and expressed pleasure to see among the 60 co-sponsors of the event not only agencies devoted to early education but many county offices of education, school districts, chambers of commerce, and professional organizations.

"How do we maintain this big tent," he asked. "Why in the year 2010 do we not have universal, accessible quality preschool for all children?" He suggested that it was a matter of language. "The word pre-school is hurting us....we need to change the education dialogue, and we need to change it now," he said. "Why not have expanded kindergarten?" Weis added that the original kindergarten was designed for children 3 to 5 years old. "If we call it Early K it sounds accelerated-which would make everyone happy."

He spoke of how his own interest in preschool began thirty years ago when his first child was born and he and his wife opened a full day preschool in order to provide quality early learning opportunities in a small rural community that was sadly lacking.

Invited in the late 1990's by former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin to join her Universal Preschool Task Force, Weis described how Eastin would say that funding for this critical expansion of public education would come "any day now." In 2006, Proposition 82, which would have funded a half-day voluntary preschool for four-year-olds, lost and the movement for universal preschool lost momentum. "Except," Weis said, "Superintendent Jack O'Connell formed his P-16 Council, because funding was coming any day now and [California is now developing the Early Learning Quality Improvement System] because funding is coming any day now..."

Donita Stromgren, California Child Care Resource and Referral Network, took up the mantra when she gave an update on early care and education and the state of the budget. "We will have a budget any day now, but if the proposed cuts go through...100,000 struggling working parents could lose their jobs."

Stromgren spoke about the recent failed efforts to increase visits by Community Care Licensing, the agency providing a baseline standard of health and safety through its oversight of child care programs. The child development field already recognizes that the current number of visits is insufficient. Unfortunately, the plan to increase visits was derailed by the most recent budget cuts. Stromgren painted a bleak picture where a child could spend five years in child care without once having a visit from licensing, adding that California is 47th in the nation for licensing and oversight of its early education and child care programs.

"The Governor clearly proposes a budget that hurts kids," Superintendent Jack O'Connell said in his address. "There is no sugar coating it." He outlined the devastating cuts to education and the impacts to school districts throughout the state, such as the elimination of bus routes in rural districts, scaled back summer school, loss of school nurses and librarians and the school year being cut up to five days in some districts when other states are recognizing the need-and implementing-longer school years.

According to Superintendent O'Connell, the California Department of Education estimates a 57 percent cut to the child development program, which translates into $1.4 billion less in direct services. "One hundred and sixty thousand to 200,000 children will lose care," he said. "Parents will have to make a choice to stay home and withdraw from the workforce."

Others on the program included Catherine Atkin and Ernesto Saldana, Preschool California; Brett Barley Silicon Valley Leadership Group; Ted Lempert, Children Now; Melina Sanchez, California Community Foundation; Matt Regan, Bay Area Council; Celia Ayala, Los Angeles Universal Preschool; Assemblymembers Joan Buchanan and Julia Brownley; Senator Carol Liu; Sandra Giarde and Marilyn McGrath, California Association for the Education of Young Children (CAEYC); and an Innovations in Early Learning Panel comprised of Maria Rosales, Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors; Ruth Yoon, LAUSD; Wilma Hashimoto, Fresno County Office of Education; Denise Wessels, Sacramento State University Children's Center; and moderator Ginger Swigart, CAEYC.

After an inspiring and rich, full morning of learning, participants gathered together in small groups to plan their visits to legislators. Team 17 was comprised of residents from Fremont, Newark, and Union City. The participants wore multiple hats, representing multiple organizations, including the Alameda County Child Care Planning Council; Kidango, a bay area non profit providing early care and education; Mills College; Newark Unified School District; Ohlone College; the San Mateo County Office of Education; and San Leandro Unified School District. The group was also accompanied by Carol Greenberg, Merced County Office of Education. The first visit was to the Office of Senator Ellen Corbett, for a conversation with legislative aide Seyron Foo, who was well versed in early education issues. He reassured the group of Senator Corbett's commitment to education and provided details on key pieces of legislation she had authored or voted for on behalf of children.

Team 17's second visit was with Assemblymember Alberto Torrico, who greeted them warmly. His office had large black and white photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John F. Kennedy. Assemblymember Torrico listened as the visitors shared stories of children and families whose lives had improved through the types of programs he has long supported, including children with special needs. He was visibly moved by the story of one mother in the group who introduced via a photograph her own young child who has multiple health issues. "Not only do I need child care for my daughter," she said, "I need to know that 911 will be called immediately."

During the discussion, Assemblymember Torrico shared his disappointment over AB 2252, a recent piece of legislation he authored on universal preschool which is held under submission in the Appropriations Committee. "I'm termed out," he said, implying that was a factor in the bill's failure to move forward. "What am I going to do after this? I will continue doing what I have always done-focusing on preschool and higher education."

"We know your work," said Camille Llanes-Fontanilla, Development and Communications Director, Kidango. "And we want to thank you for everything you have done and the support you have given us. What can we do to support you?"

"Share your stories," said Assemblymember Torrico told us. "We hear from lobbyists...but it is hearing from you that has the most impact."

Thinking back on the day, universal preschool-or early kindergarten-will happen any day now, as we share our stories, and share our stores, and share our stories until the evidence of the importance of early education cannot be denied. "Talk about the important learning that takes place from birth to death," said Superintendent Weis in his keynote. "Change the language, change the discussion, create a bigger tent."

In creating that bigger tent, we create a bigger safety net for our children, who are our future.

If you would like to learn more about early education, its impacts on long-term learning, reduction of crime and high school drop out rates, return on investment for society, and numerous other benefits, visit Preschool California at www.preschoolcalifornia.org.

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