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Legislature Shows New Signs of Life in Addressing Children's Needs

Sep 01, 2006

OAKLAND, CA—Legislation to improve after school, health insurance and preschool programs for California children passed the Legislature and is expected to be signed by Governor Schwarzenegger. Co-sponsored by Children Now, a leading nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to assuring all children thrive, these bills received bipartisan support for their common-sense approaches to improving children’s well-being.

“These are all good steps in the right direction,” said Children Now President Ted Lempert. “I’m hopeful that these commendable legislative actions represent a starting point. Much more remains to be done to improve children’s well-being and represent the voters’ will to truly make kids a top policy priority, especially in the area of children’s health and preschool.”

SB 638 (Torlakson), co-sponsored by Children Now, significantly enhances the ability of schools to deliver quality after school programs that provide safe and enriching environments for children during after school hours. These major changes come in time to ensure that the additional $430 million in after school funds available this year through Proposition 49 will be put to use effectively. SB 638 makes a number of key improvements to state and federally-funded programs. It provides a 50 percent increase in the daily per-student amount each after school site receives, from $5 to $7.50, and decreases funding matches for operating costs from a half to one-third. The bill also allocates more funding for staff development and assistance. Importantly, low-income after school programs receive priority but all schools are eligible to apply for the after school funds.
“The passage of SB 638 represents a significant turnaround in favor of children,” said Lempert. “The year began with the Legislature talking about introducing a constitutional amendment to delay the implementation of Prop. 49. Now we have Prop. 49 being implemented with changes that promote stronger, better after school programs.”

The second bill, AB 172 (Chan), delivers $50 million to expand preschool opportunities for low-income children. Approximately 12,500 more children throughout the state will be able to attend preschool. In addition to increasing the number of children who can attend preschool, the legislation funds more education and training for preschool teachers, and encourages families and schools to work together to develop children’s early reading skills. Studies have shown that children who attend quality preschool are more likely to become able learners and go on to college than children who do not.

The third bill co-sponsored by Children Now, SB 437 (Escutia), improves the administration of children’s enrollment in and retention of health coverage. SB 437 simplifies the enrollment process by establishing a bridge for families that receive WIC and whose children are eligible for, but have not enrolled in, Medi-Cal or Healthy Families. It also reduces the amount and complexity of paperwork required to renew coverage.

“In November, California voters will have the opportunity to pass a tobacco tax initiative that provides health coverage to all uninsured children in the state,” said Lempert. “This is the scale of change we need to make happen for our children, in order to give them the opportunity to lead healthy and productive lives.”

Proposition 86, also known as The Tobacco Tax Act of 2006, is co-sponsored by Children Now. If passed, a portion of proceeds generated from increased taxes on all tobacco product sales will fund health coverage for California’s approximately 800,000 uninsured children.

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