Santa Clara County expands early child care program
Santa Clara County Government Center. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County.

In a win for education advocates and leaders, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to extend a pilot program intended to help the most vulnerable kids in San Jose.

The Universal Access to Early Childhood Care, Education & Health Services program was introduced in 2017 by former Supervisor Ken Yeager to provide universal access to quality health care for kids from birth until age eight. It also provides early learning opportunities, following an educational approach that combines the importance of health with academic achievement and prioritizes family involvement in the process.

The current pilot program provides kids in two school districts — Franklin-McKinley School District and Alum Rock School District — with access to social, educational and health care services to keep them and their families on the right track for success. There are 24 families enrolled, and 15 are on the waitlist. The goal is to eventually expand the program to all Santa Clara County school districts, county officials said.

The vote on Tuesday expands the program by allocating an additional $34,000 to support it, an increase from $454,000 to $488,000 per year.

Families who qualify for the help meet with officials at a district enrollment center who connects them with services ranging from CalWORKs and CalFresh programs to mental health, child care, employment, health services and insurance, housing and parenting support.

Supervisor Dave Cortese expressed support for the program, comparing it to a Head Start program he was involved with that helped children learn to read in English before the age of five. But that program was cut because of a lack of funding, he said.

“It’s heartbreaking to think now that there are kids in that same place who aren’t going to have that opportunity. It’s really devastating to think they’ll potentially fall way behind,” Cortese said. “It’s clear that this is the work that needs to be done.”

But other supervisors expressed concern with resources available for the expansion.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez said she supports the program, but hopes to roll it out to school districts with the highest needs first.

The expansion of the program will help by providing low-income families with child care and preschool opportunities, teaching young children the basics of reading, writing and math to prepare them for kindergarten.

Superintendent Hilaria Bauer from Alum Rock Union Elementary School District reported that her district receives around $12,000 to $13,000 per student in public funding. Superintendent Juan Cruz from Franklin-McKinley School District reported receiving $15,000 to $17,000 per student based on declining enrollment and cost of living.

Public funding is distributed based on the school district’s number of students and average daily attendance for those students. Additional funding is provided through property taxes.

“That’s how everybody’s face should look when they hear what state funding is for people in California,” said Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, referring to President Joe Simitian’s surprised look when he learned about the lack of funding for school districts. “The inequities bring us to a place where in this county Palo Alto students are receiving upwards of $19,000 per student.”

On Tuesday, many parents and teachers expressed support for expanding the program, saying it has tremendously improved their children’s learning and development.

“Every kid should have the same opportunity to go to preschool since the expectations in kindergarten are really high and some kids start with disadvantages,” said Karina, a mother of two kids enrolled in the program, who did not want to disclose her last name. “Right now it’s helping 24 families. Next year it’s going to help 48, and we’re hoping to help many more.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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