Closing the child care gap is vital to Monterey County economic blueprint

1024 576 Nadine Ono

(Photo: USDA/Flickr)

To create a truly equitable economy, investments in people, from cradle to career, are vital for success. But for some of the most marginalized communities, access to quality and affordable early childcare is unattainable. That’s why the Regions Rise Together Salinas Investment Blueprint has created a plan that increases access for families and develops a larger childcare workforce in the Human Capital Development focus area.

Early childcare touches many aspects of life from childhood development to economic opportunities. Monterey County has an estimated 36,000 children under the age of five, yet there are only about 10,000 licensed day care spots available (the numbers may be lower due to the impacts of COVID-19). Even if a family can find an open spot, the median cost of infant care in Monterey County is $14,000 per year, well above the 7% threshold of affordable care defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (in Monterey County, that’s $4,117 per year).

Yet, it is known that access to quality early childhood education is key to lifelong success, according to Sonja Koehler, director of Bright Beginnings Early Childhood Development Initiative. “That’s when 90% of our brain development happens, 85% by age four, laying foundational skills for mental health, social/emotional health, math skills, reading skills, everything that’s important.”

And it’s not only the children who benefit from early child care, but also an entire ecosystem, according to First 5 Monterey County Executive Director Francine Rodd. “Child care serves multiple purposes. It allows the parents to be able to work. It allows the children to have quality educational experiences so we’re laying the groundwork for our future generations.”

Increasing the child care workforce is key to increasing the available slots. “It’s notoriously low pay,” said Koehler. “A lot of those jobs, the average pay is minimum wage. And yet the credentialing is high. We’re battling uphill to attract folks into a job that’s really a labor of love versus something that you can support your own family on. A large portion of the workforce are women of color. Historically child care has been low or unpaid work for women of color, so this is also about equity.”

Another important piece of the puzzle, especially in the Salinas Valley, is for Spanish-speaking children to retain their language. “What we know is that those children who are bilingual actually graduate at higher rates and they do better moving on to higher education,” explained Rodd. “We need that for our workforce. We are a bilingual state.”

The Regions Rise Together: Salinas Blueprint proposes the following:

  • Doubling the number of licensed child care slots in Monterey County to 20,000
  • More than doubling the child care and early learning workforce, adding 2,500 child care entrepreneurs and workers
  • More than doubling the average wages of child caregivers to be on par with kindergarten teachers at $40 an hour plus benefits
  • Making child care affordable universally for all families, targeting low-, moderate-, and middle-income families so that none of these families pays more than 7% of their income
  • Tripling the percent of children whose comprehensive, holistic needs have been met upon entering Kindergarten, reaching 75%, as assessed by the School Systems Readiness Assessment
  • Ensuring that the 66% of children for whom Spanish is their native language retain that language and gain bilingual literacy

The investment for the Human Capital Development focus area of the Regions Rise Together Salinas Investment Blueprint is $816 million, which could come from federal, state and philanthropic sources. The Governor’s 2022-23 budget includes funds that could help achieve the Blueprint goals and includes the provision of $1 billion to expand Universal Transitional Kindergarten (UTK) access including:

  • $639.2 million from the General Fund to “rebench” the Proposition 98 guarantee for an estimated 56,000 new universal TK enrollments in 2022-23.
  • $393 million in Proposition 98 funding to decrease UTK ratios to be consistent with state Preschool.

It also recognizes the 2025-26 goal for full UTK implementations.

This is the third story in a series on the Regions Rise Together Salinas Investment Blueprint. The next installment will focus on Career Pathways and Leadership Development within the Human Capital Development focus area.


Nadine Ono

All stories by: Nadine Ono