Home > news > Daily Cal, “Community Members Gather to Protest Proposed Childcare Cuts” (Aug. 9, 2010)

Daily Cal, “Community Members Gather to Protest Proposed Childcare Cuts” (Aug. 9, 2010)

“Community Members Gather to Protest Proposed Childcare Cuts”

Sara Johnson [Aug. 5, 2010]

Demonstrators gathered outside Berkeley’s City Hall Thursday to protest proposed cuts to state funding of child care programs.

When Gennelle Lacy gets called in to work for an 8 a.m. shift, she relies on the low-income child care program at Malcolm X Arts and Academics Magnet elementary school to watch over her 8-year-old daughter.

But with the program facing imminent closure due to ongoing state budget woes, Lacy wonders who will take care of her daughter during her often 40-hour work weeks. She said comparable child care would cost her over half a month’s wages.

“I would just be working for child care,” she said. 

Lacy was one of the more than 100 parents, teachers, children and government officials who gathered in Downtown Berkeley Thursday night to protest proposed state funding cuts to child care programs that would force several Berkeley low-income child care and preschool programs to close their doors to hundreds of children if enacted.

Because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May budget revision eliminates all state subsidies for child care programs, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education approved issuing layoff notices to most of its low-income preschool and child care program’s staff in June.

Board members voted to use district reserves to fund Berkeley’s Excellent Academic Road to Success, a low-income child care program, as well as the preschool programs through Aug. 31.

“There was some hope, some belief, that there would be a state budget,” said Cathy Campbell, president of Berkeley Federation of Teachers. “It is becoming increasingly clear that there will not be a budget by Aug. 31.”

The board renewed the BEARS program’s $2.2 million contract at its meeting Wednesday, though with no new budget from the state, there is no guarantee the program will be funded.

“There has not yet been a decision on what the child care funding will be,” said Rachel Ehlers, a principal fiscal and policy analyst at the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. “As of July 1, there isn’t any funding flowing to the subsidized child care.”

State Senator Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, said the state budget conference committee recommended Wednesday night to reappropriate $200 million from last year’s budget into this year’s and cap the reserves of the child care providers.

Ducheny said this will save almost $300 million without tightening eligibility requirements or raising rates.

Standing in front of the crowd at Thursday’s rally, Maha Ibrahim, senior field representative for the Oakland office of Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland, said the fight is not over.

“This is the conference committee – it will go on to the full Assembly and the Senate,” she said. “The Assembly Democrats and the Senate Democrats have agreed they do not want to cut child care.”

Ducheny said the Democrats and Republicans still do not have an agreement on the budget.

Zachary Pless, program supervisor of Extended Learning in the district, said district officials discussed an alternative plan at a Thursday meeting that proposes using reserves to fund 25 percent of the BEARS program as well as two-thirds of the preschool program through November, with the hope that a budget would be passed by that time.

“My staff is going to give a proposal to (the board) … to try to keep the doors open on a reduced basis, through September and through October if we possibly can, for as many as we can,” district Superintendent William Huyett said at the rally. “But we’re running out of money. We have to have a budget now.”

Pless said the BEARS program – which operates 240 days out of the year, including before and after school and during the summer – will have served 320 students this summer. The program is free for families with incomes less than 40 percent of the state median income.

Links Enrichment, Academics and Recreation to the Needs of Students, another district child care program, operates only after school during the academic year. The program offers subsidies based on family size and income.

Maria Carriedo, principal for the district’s preschool programs, said the district’s programs currently serve 392 students. If an alternative plan does not surface, all 14 full-day preschool programs will be eliminated and potentially only two half-day programs will be preserved, with a capacity of 24 students each.

Nuvia Montero Cruz, a Berkeley mother of three, has seen the positive effect the district’s low-income preschool program has on her children. Montero Cruz said her eldest child did not attend the program and was behind his classmates when he started kindergarten.

She said she worries the funding cuts will equally limit her 4-year-old son, Cesar Garcia, who has attended the program for the past two years.

“If he does not continue preschool, he will be delayed,” she said. “He won’t be ready for kindergarten.”

For parents like Montero Cruz and Lacy, continued legislative discussion translates to more time spent in uncertainty.

“We need a budget, and we need it now,” Huyett said.

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