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California’s Early Childhood Education System Needs to Check Its Math

Researchers say low provider pay and low quality care are endemic to California’s patchwork childcare industry.




Data show that early childhood education providers are twice as likely to live in poverty as other California workers. (Photo: Nadezhda1906)

Just in time for Governor Gavin Newsom’s $1.8 billion down payment on an early childhood education program for California, a new study blasts the state for subsidizing childcare on the backs of underpaid workers. The Economic Policy Institute and UC Berkeley’s Center for Childcare Employment report estimates the actual annual cost of a fully phased-in early ed system to be in the range of $29.7 billion to $75.4 billion (or $30,000 to $37,000 per child). “This isn’t a no-sum game,” UCLA education professor Megan Franke, an early learning specialist not involved in the study, told Learning Curves. “Quality care being available for families really matters, but it won’t matter if the care we provide isn’t meeting the needs of young people.”

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to, @BillRaden. Abby Kingsley contributed to this column.

Researchers identified low provider pay and low quality care as endemic to California’s patchwork childcare industry and as a misguided effort to keep care affordable. Childcare providers, many of whom are home-based women of color, are twice as likely as other California workers to fall below the poverty line. But poor working conditions ultimately harm children in a field where high pay and experience correlates to better care and achievement outcomes for kids. “Money spent supporting the folks doing the work in early childhood settings is also good for the young people. We need to not only pay them, we need to support them with resources to enable them to do their job,” Franke emphasized.

The potential damage to California’s once peerless public research universities by a “yellow peril” campaign launched by the Trump administration is the subject of a story this week by L.A. Times’ reporters Teresa Watanabe and Don Lee. A steady drumbeat of China bashing over the past year and a half by the administration, along with tightened restrictions on collaborations with China and Chinese companies, and accusations of spying, have stirred up a climate of anti-Asian racism on U.S. research campuses. Last Thursday the UC Board of Regents approved a systemwide audit to identify “foreign influence” risks. And with major UC research campuses already reporting that federal scrutiny of Chinese and Chinese-American students and professors has resulted in visa delays, the fear is that the ethnically focused crackdown will result in an exodus of world-class Chinese intellectual talent, along with federal research dollars, which could have crippling, long-term repercussions for the Golden State’s — and the nation’s — leadership in high-tech innovation.

The implications for a state with a long history of discrimination against citizens and residents of Asian descent were laid out last week in an op-ed by UC Hastings College of the Law professor Frank Wu. Wu points out that an administration success in driving Chinese research talent out of America will likely prove a victory for China. He cites the precedent of Jet Propulsion Laboratory co-founder — and Manhattan Project atomic scientist — Qian Xuesen, who fell victim to similar hysteria during the McCarthy era. Falsely accused of being a Communist, arrested and stripped of his passport for five years before finally being traded to Mao Zedong in a prisoner exchange, Xuesen went on to become the father of Chinese rocket science and developer of the Silkworm missile.

This week’s reminder of why robust local control — and oversight — of fiscally suspect schools is a good idea comes courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, the Postal Service, the Secret Service and the FBI. Last week those federal agencies raided the home of Janis Bucknor, the co-founder and former director of a defunct L.A. charter school, the Community Preparatory Academy (CPA). Though the search warrant is under seal and the target of the investigation remains unknown, agents carted away records. Bucknor’s management of CPA had come under fire in a report by L.A. Unified’s charter division that earlier this year recommended the charter’s reauthorization petition be denied.

Minimally qualified teachers, inadequate teacher training, misassignment of teachers outside their subject areas and a high ratio of substitutes, plus mediocre academic achievement and fiscal mismanagement — including $180,000 in improperly supported or documented spending — were just some of the reasons cited in the report. L.A. Unified agreed and pulled the plug in April. CPA, which served 338 K-8 students at two sites, chose not to appeal and closed in June.

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