Efforts to improve the health and education of California’s children would get a giant funding boost under Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget, a prospect that’s generating a swell of excitement among child advocacy groups.
The governor’s first budget proposal, released Jan. 10, offers numerous supports aimed directly at bolstering childhood health, including $105 million to pay for developmental and mental health screenings for low-income children, almost $110 million to expand home visiting programs that support new moms and their babies, and $260 million to extend full Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented young people ages 19 through 25.
Early education also features prominently in Newsom’s proposal. The budget, if approved by the legislature, would funnel approximately millions of dollars toward learning and support services for young children, including adding 200,000 new state-subsidized preschool slots for low-income 4 year olds, increasing the availability of child care facilities, and training more childcare providers.
Children could benefit indirectly from the budget too, thanks to proposals for expanding subsidies to help more families afford health care, providing six months of paid parental leave, and increasing certain payments to Medi-Cal health care providers – many of whom serve children – to incentivize better care.
“It was surprising just how much of an investment and a focus on kids (Newsom) made. I think it shows some stark contrasts with our previous governor,” said Mike Odeh, health policy director for the advocacy organization Children Now. “What was really pleasing was that he really looked at all facets of kids’ needs. We saw everything from health investments to educational investments to paid family leave and family supports. It’s really showing there’s a lot of ways that we need to better support kids and families.”
Newsom also ordered the creation of a new California surgeon general position. The surgeon general would be tasked with identifying and advising the governor on ways to tackle the root causes of serious health conditions, such as traumatic experiences during childhood.
The position is accompanied by a budget proposal to develop and fund adverse childhood experiences screenings for youth and adults enrolled in Medi-Cal, reflecting growing recognition in the medical community of how the environment children grow up in can affect long-term physical and mental health.
“Just by doing this as one of his first acts of governor shows an acknowledgment and commitment to try to solve some of these complicated social problems,” said Odeh. “I think this is extremely promising and it’s really an example of kind of putting money where his mouth is.”
The governor’s proposal to expand funding for early education would also positively impact children’s health and wellbeing, said Christopher Maricle, executive director of California Head Start Association, which represents Head Start providers in the state. In addition to offering preschool education, Head Start programs help combat poverty by connecting families to resources that can improve their health and lives, Maricle said.
More funding for early childhood programs, along with a recent federal grant that will help state policymakers make plans to improve California’s preschool system, could ultimately have a big impact on making childcare and early learning programs more available and affordable, he said.
“2019 is going to be a really, really important year,” Maricle said. “I think it’s going to set the pathway for the next 10 years on how we’re going to come up with a comprehensive system to make sure all children get what they need to be healthy and to thrive and to hit kindergarten ready to learn. That’s exciting.”