Availability of Child Care Drops Despite Funding

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Despite a dramatic increase in funding, a UC Berkeley research team reports a decline in California child care spaces in a study released Friday.

Though child care spending rose from $800 million in 1996-97 to $3.1 billion in 2001-02, preschool enrollment slots only rose from 13 to 14 percent for children aged 0 to 5 between 1996 and 2000, the new study reports.

"The troubling thing about these findings is that our early education system displayed such weak vital signs during one of the most robust economic periods in California's history," said Patricia Siegel, executive director of the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network, in a statement.

Studies show the quality of a child care program contributes to a child's cognitive growth. As more women enter the workforce, day-care quality has become a top priority for state and local officials.

"Infants and toddlers are the most vulnerable," said Arlyce Currie, program director of Bananas, a non-profit child care agency. "We've never caught up with (child care). We're in a crisis, especially with infants and toddlers-they are the most vulnerable."

High turnover rates, low wages and rising facilities costs are among the causes behind stagnation in preschool numbers during the economic boom, said Shelley Boots, research director of the Child Care Resource and Referral Center.

"The economic boom drew people away from the child care field because they could make more money elsewhere," said Currie.

Scientists from UC Berkeley and Stanford University produced the report, "A Stark Plateau: California Families See Little Growth in Child Care Centers," using analyzed data from the California Child Care Resources and Referral Network.

The study was released as Congress begins to debate expansions in public preschool and child care programs, though in the last seven years, voucher financing which uses public funds to subsidize purchases in the private market, has increased sevenfold.

Though in past years a large part of the increases in child care funding have been given to parents via vouchers, critics said the privatization of child care is detrimental because it favors a market approach, the study states.

Critics said vouchers need to be distributed between home-care and center-based care centers.

"Lopsided spending between home-care and center-based care has done little to widen parent access to quality centers and preschools," Fuller said. "The

wait lists require a (one to two-year) wait. In order to better the system, we need to address the long wait lists and balance the voucher allocation between home-care and center-based care."

Another study investigated the impact of a new statewide voucher program, showing that vouchers do not affect the price, supply and quality of daycare.

"It is not an either-or situation with vouchers," said Boots. "Vouchers are effective in regards to affordability. But the quality and availability aspects need to be improved. This can happen with more direct support-based care."

During the Reagan Era, when the federal government favored decentralization, deregulation, and privatization, care vouchers given to parents began to increase, according to a report by Child Care Resource and Research Center.


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