SALINAS — A citizen initiative that would provide more than $55 million in Monterey County funding to support local child care and preschool programs over the next 10 years has qualified for the November ballot.
The bill, called the Safe and Quality Affordable Child Care Act, aims to improve the caliber and availability of affordable child care and preschool services throughout the county.
“(The initiative) is the spark that could start a fire,” said Monterey County District 3 Supervisor Chris Lopez, who is a local early childhood education advocate and parent. “This is not about forcing anyone to put their child in day care, but about creating opportunities for those who want and need them. That should be available to everyone in my mind.”
Kicked off in April by a host of local leaders, including parents, educators, business owners and community advocates, the grassroots initiative gathered more than 10,000 signatures from supporters across the county before being sent to the County Registrar of Voters. Monterey last month, far exceeding the threshold of 5,882 signatures needed to advance to the November general election. However, López explained that the conversations that seeded the idea began much earlier than a few months ago. Rather, they began circulating in the general community five years ago, López said. However, it was not until the pandemic illuminated the need that what had been just passive discussion turned into activism.
“COVID exacerbated (the situation) to the point where the speed of the talks and planning accelerated,” López continued. “There was more recognition of the problem. Those who perhaps felt it was someone’s responsibility to do something realized that without childcare, there is no capacity to have a full workforce in the community. … We started to gain strength.”
Lopez, along with her fellow county supervisors, is just one of several community stakeholders providing support for the make-believe child care law. Other partners and advocates include Building Healthy Communities Monterey County; Cannery Row Co.; Organized Communities for Relational Power in Action; Gonzalez Gift Shop; League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC); Monterey Bay Economic Association; Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce; United Parents; Women in Action; and United Way Monterey County, among others.
“This is not about me or any group. … The most encouraging part of this campaign is its community nature,” López said. “The fact that there are so many people willing and able to take ownership of what we’re doing is, for lack of a better word, great. That’s what public policy is about.”
To fund the aspirations, the community initiative proposes a special parcel tax of $49 on every parcel of real property in Monterey County, raising $5.5 million annually, for 10 years. The money would also remain under local control, meaning the state would not cut it off and take it away.
The accumulated income would be kept in reserve to be used only for the execution of the project, according to the initiative website. The Monterey County Children and Families First Commission, also known as First 5 Monterey County, would then develop, manage, and monitor a budget and program plan, updated every three years. Started in 1998, First 5 Monterey County is a local commission of a state program serving children up to age 5.
The allocation of special tax funds to the commission would come through the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. And, along with the commission, the initiative’s organizers are proposing a citizen watchdog committee to make recommendations on the program and budget, as well as prepare an annual report on the project’s progress. The ballot initiative suggests a 15-member committee, with members representing the licensed child care community, local business and industry sectors, and educational interests from kindergarten through college.
According to a 2020 count by Kidsdata.org, a program of the Population Reference Bureau, there are nearly 70,000 children under the age of 10 living in Monterey County. Meanwhile, in 2019, there were just over 10,000 licensed child care spaces countywide, Kidsdata.org reported. The agency did not indicate how many of those authorized spaces are operational. For the consortium of local leaders behind the Safe, Affordable and Quality Child Care Act, this ratio is barely enough and has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Licensed child care is difficult to open and expensive to operate,” said the proposed ballot initiative reads “This is due to a lack of appropriate facilities in Monterey County, complex state and federal regulations, and teacher and staff shortages, all made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The initiative goes on to note that “most existing child care and early learning programs are Monday through Friday, noon, and/or end before 6:00 p.m.…(therefore) they do not meet the needs of many working parents, such as shift workers, which is common in the agriculture, hospitality, and healthcare industries, all of which are large sectors of employment in Monterey County.”
Potential ventures the program can fund and undertake if the initiative passes in the fall include the construction, acquisition and renovation of licensed child care facilities; extension of the hours and days of availability of the services; and financial assistance to help attract, retain and train early education teachers and child care workers.
The third objective, to put more emphasis on training, is especially important for López, who equalized the goal with equity.
“At the end of the day, what matters most is that the person providing child care is qualified,” she said. “We need to make sure that the people doing the critical work have the tools they need to be successful for the sake of our children. That means providing education and tools to those in the community who (currently) lack access. … That would help put us on an equal footing.”
The kind of access the ballot initiative promises is an opportunity that Priscilla Amao, a local mother, says would have “meant the world to (her) before.” An aspiring graduate student at CSU Monterey Bay, and a single mother, Amao said that as a student, she struggled to find reliable and affordable child care options, in addition to family members, that would accommodate her schedule as a student who also worked complete. -weather. Although Amao has since found services that serve both her and her daughter, she came “a long way with a lot of really hard life decisions to be happy,” she said.
Amao hopes the Safe, Affordable and Quality Child Care Act will ease some of the pressure she felt for Monterey County parents facing similar constraints.
“The semester that I received reports that my daughter was doing well in preschool, I started to feel better about my education and my decisions,” Amao said. “Talk about what affordable, safe, quality child care does for families. It helps us go to the next level.”
The Board of Supervisors will take administrative action to formally place the initiative on the ballot this month. For more information about the Safe, Affordable, and Quality Child Care Act, visit https://www.yes4montereycountykids.org.