California's Early Childhood Education System: Promises Kept

Most of the things for which an elected official has direct responsibility are much too boring for the average voter to consider. One area that is, has, and will continue to be of great concern to Californians is the interests of children. I have been fortunate to serve in a Legislature that has consistently advocated for the head start, early start, safe start, moral start, and healthy start provided by quality early learning experiences.

This year, the struggle for adequate resources in early childhood education (ECE) changed with the election of Assembly Member Anthony Rendon of Lakewood to the Speakership. Rendon, a trained political philosopher and educator, ran an early childhood center in Los Angeles prior to seeking office. He understood the challenges of retaining a well-trained workforce with limited resources for salaries. Rendon also appreciated that the State of California was the major actor that failed to advance the strategic interests of children.

The will of the voters, the economy, and smart fiscal policy pointed toward early investments in children and their education. The missing ingredient was a legislative leader who was prepared to utilize the considerable resources of their office to fight for children. I'd carried bills to improve the rate structure for ECE providers as had other legislators, and we'd made modest strides because of competing fiscal priorities.

The state's annual spending plan, which lasts from July 1 of one year to June 30 of the next and must be voted on by Legislature by June 15 signed by the Governor soon after, is crafted via an arcane process. There are thousands of stakeholders who advocate for various meritorious spending goals. Credit is due to Rendon in that he came to Sacramento discussing fixing the ECE system and took on the daunting challenge of fighting for a critical priority that needed extra-special attention.

I supported Rendon in his quest to be Speaker and it was clearly the best decision for California's children. The Speaker has led, with his Assembly colleagues (particularly Assembly Budget Committee Chair Phil Ting of San Francisco and early-learning expert/Education Finance Budget Sub-Committee Chair Kevin McCarty of Sacramento) and the Legislative Women's Caucus, by advancing a modernization of the rate structure for ECE in the recently negotiated state budget agreement. This will result when fully implemented in over $600 million in increased ECE investment. Wages, workforce development, facilities and materials among other items will finally be able to be supported with more adequate funding levels from the State of California.

In addition to the improved rate structure, the Rendon ECE budget package sets up a Blue Ribbon Commission to immediately begin the comprehensive improvement of the ECE system and increase the number of subsidized state pre-school slots by 9,000. This Commission, coupled with the phased-in investment of rates and slots, will position all California children for success.

This represents the single most significant investment in the ECE system's history. So when there are issues that come to the fore that require vision and tenacity, Speaker Rendon has exemplified the role of legislative leadership. This has great potential to bode well for the Golden State. A fresh face in the leadership of California is making a substantial impact in his first year as Speaker.

The State of California has a covenant with the people. State government will foster the conditions for high quality of life if voters, the economy, and sound fiscal administration allow. By leading the charge for just ECE funding, Speaker Rendon has helped California keep its promise to be a responsible agent for advancing the future.