While new science shows incredible brain development within the first five years of life, it’s the same old story when it comes to high-quality early care and education countywide. Basically, there aren’t enough licensed facilities, and about 25 percent of existing spots are of low quality, according to Ben Romo, executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County, which hosted a discussion Monday night on “the preschool and child-care crisis.”
More stats painted an even bleaker picture. Countywide, it’s estimated that 65 percent of children 5 years old and younger have both parents, or their present single parent, in the workforce, a situation that makes preschool more likely a necessity than a choice. But in that respect, Romo continued, only 11,000 licensed spaces exist for 20,000 kids in need. And lastly, preschool teachers — tasked with nurturing children during the most critical time of brain development — get paid the least, compared to K-12 instructors.
Governor Jerry Brown’s recent veto of AB 47, which would have set a timetable for providing state-subsidized preschool for 4-year-olds from low-income families, exacerbated Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson’s frustration with the issue. As part of Monday’s panel, she explained that investment in early education helps save money down the road, as better-educated kids tend to take paths that don’t lead to jail, for example. “This is not rocket science,” Jackson said. “But it’s been very difficult to get this message to the governor.” In the meantime, Jackson said she’s working on legislation that would provide corporate incentives for on-site child care. She specifically cited Ventura-based Patagonia as a model program.