It has taken a few weeks to sort it out, but it certainly seems that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most recent state budget proposal once again has public education wedged firmly between a rock and a hard place in these fiscally ragged times. And while the Santa Barbara School District is — yet again — looking at having to come up with a few million dollars’ worth of cuts sometime next year should the May revision hold, it is state-funded child development programs that, as of right now, stand to feel the worst pain. It’s a particularly bitter pill to swallow considering the economically disadvantaged populations explicitly served by such programs. “This is a potentially devastating proposal. If it stands, it would put California as the only state in the Union without a welfare safety net [for child care],” lamented Trudy Adair-Verbais, director of the Santa Barbara County Education Child Development Program, earlier this week before adding with a tone of disbelief, “These programs are designed specifically to get families out of poverty and get them working again — and they work. Yet they are what the governor is specifically targeting.”
As per the governor’s proposal, which was unveiled on May 14, California would cease to fund state child care in the name of saving some $1.45 billion. With 12 state-subsidized agencies providing various forms of daycare throughout the county for families living on welfare or making progress to live independently of it, the plan has the potential to impact literally thousands of families throughout Santa Barbara County — severing a crucial service they need as they train to re-enter the workplace or start new jobs. Programs like CalWorks, Santa Barbara Family Care, Isla Vista Youth Projects, the Hope Education Center, and the on-site daycare provided for some 200 families at many Santa Barbara School District schools would all find themselves in dire straits if the proposal becomes a reality. In fact, last Tuesday night, even though it was not slated for official discussion, a standing-room-only crowd of parents served by such programs stormed the Santa Barbara School District Board of Education meeting to voice their displeasure with the proposal. “I have a hard time believing that they are going to just decimate such an important program — I mean, where would all those families get child care? But it is the best information we have at this time so we have to proceed accordingly,” observed Eric Smith, School District deputy superintendent, this week. Speaking to the sweeping nature of the plan, Adair-Verbais added, “Every agency [in the county] would be substantially impacted — not just the families they serve but also the people who work there.”
According to Adair-Verbais, the potential wholesale cutting — which, it is worth noting, would be mitigated to some as yet unknown degree by federal funding for such child-care programs — has a wicked compounding side effect when you consider how the current state-funded programs work. Besides subsidizing various facilities and specific offerings, the state program also provides a voucher system for needy families that allows them to “buy” child care on the open market from private providers but at a greatly reduced rate. Included in the governor’s proposal is a move that would cut the voucher rate and vastly increase co-payments for child-care services virtually overnight. “For most low-income families, this would be next to impossible,” figures Adair-Verbais, and, as a result, private daycare services would see a drop-off in their business. The same is true for the state’s Family, Friend, and Neighbor child-care program which, similar to the voucher program, helps cash-strapped families pick up the tab from private providers. “We are really getting hit from the left and the right,” summed up Adair-Verbais.