Despite an unprecedented budget surplus, funding to meet the state’s goal of expanding Head Start programs has remained elusive. Instead, hundreds of Head Start classrooms statewide are closed because of the inability to hire staff to serve children.
By Anna Ioakimedes, Special to CalMatters
Anna Ioakimedes is the director of governmental affairs at Head Start California.
The Legislature recently released its Joint Legislative Budget Proposal, which included more than $2 billion to support the child care system. It provided no funding, however, for some of the most vulnerable children and families in California — those living below the federal poverty line (less than $28,000 for a family of four) and thus eligible for Head Start.
Although the legislative budget proposal includes $1.8 billion to increase the state reimbursement rate and improve teacher salaries, this increase will not benefit most Head Start teachers.
Four years ago, the Legislature recognized the value of Head Start, recommending in the Assembly’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education that California should “expand effective access to Head Start for federally eligible 3- and 4-year-old children by using state funds to expand Head Start program to full-day, full-year for all those meeting Head Start eligibility.” Despite an unprecedented budget surplus, the funding to meet this goal has remained elusive. Instead, the opposite has occurred — statewide, hundreds of Head Start classrooms are closed because of the inability to hire staff to serve children.
Thirty percent of Head Start programs do not receive funding from the state reimbursement rate system, and even in programs that do, many do not blend funding streams — meaning that a state preschool teacher could receive a raise, while a Head Start teacher employed by the same agency teaching in a classroom next door may not. This is unjust and inequitable.
Head Start California seeks a modest budget allocation of $50 million in the 2022-23 budget. We ask the Legislature and the governor to find the funds in a nearly $100 billion surplus to support high-quality early learning for the most vulnerable children in the state.