After months of delays and pandemic upheaval, California officials on Tuesday released the long-awaited Master Plan for Early Learning and Care, a 113-page blueprint to remodel the state’s Byzantine child-care system and dramatically expand public preschool.
“The Master Plan shows how one state can achieve goals that are soon to become national ones,” the authors noted. “California can use the Master Plan to signal its fitness as an early partner with the incoming Biden administration,” which advocates early-education reform and better access to child care.
But critics say the forward-looking document does little to shore up the existing infrastructure, even as it crumbles underfoot. Unlike K-12 schools, preschools and day-care centers have been allowed to operate throughout the pandemic. Yet since March, almost 400 child-care centers have closed permanently, and at least 5,700 licensed family child-care homes have gone under, leaving tens of thousands of working parents in the lurch.
“We’re sounding the alarm, because the system is on the verge of collapse,” said Max Arias, chairman of the Child Care Providers Union, which represents thousands of workers. “Who knows how the sector will look when it’s time to start implementing this plan? We need to address this crisis, because if not, there won’t be any child-care providers left.”
Indeed, the pandemic has further destabilized an industry that was already in decline when Gov. Gavin Newsom campaigned on early-education reform in 2018, and when experts began work on the plan last fall. Echoing the Master Plan for Higher Education, the Master Plan for Early Learning and Care was envisioned as a 10-year guidebook for new legislation, investment and reform. Its main goals include uniform standards for early education, better training for child-care workers, easier access to subsidized care for low-income families and universal transitional kindergarten for all California 4-year-olds.
“The goals they lay out are great, but where’s the roadmap for actually getting this done?” asked Ted Lempert, a former state assemblyman who is president of the research and advocacy organization Children Now. “COVID has made this system so fragile and so essential. Now we’re in code red.”
The plan itself acknowledged the crisis, including its impact on working families.
“The COVID-19 crisis has put increased pressure on an already fragile provider ecosystem,” the report said. “Stabilizing and supporting the workforce is critical to the state’s response and recovery process.”
Yet the authors offered few details on how California would help preschools and day-care centers stay open while it sorts out funding for its more ambitious goals. Instead, its most immediate action would be to untangle some of the bureaucracy governing early-childhood care by shifting oversight for virtually all state-subsidized programs from the state’s Department of Education to the Department of Social Services. The plan suggests then streamlining publicly funded programs, simplifying eligibility for low-income families and overhauling reimbursements for providers, which the