From the Children Now Newsroom
California's Revised Budget Proposal and Its Potential Impact on Kids
May 20, 2011
Supporting children is clearly the best investment the state can make, yet even in the best of times, children are not the top priority in state spending. Over the past few years, children have been the target of the most significant, painful budget cuts. In tough economic times, families put their children first; leaders of our state should reflect this core value. California ranks 12th in the nation on total state and local revenues, so all children’s services should rank at least 12th in the nation on a per capita basis. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Many of California’s highest-ranking per capita expenditures are not going towards children’s services.
While children’s health and education should be the last place our state’s leaders look to cut, it is virtually impossible to garner enough savings in an all-cuts budget to spare children’s services. Therefore, Children Now supports a balanced approach to California’s budget, including Governor Brown’s proposed tax extensions. An all-cuts budget would further devastate the critical services that California’s children depend on. State lawmakers should adopt a balanced approach, so California’s children can access the health, education and social supports they need to succeed and thrive.
Governor Brown’s May Revise proposals that would impact California’s children include:
Stable Funding for K-12, But Cuts to Critical Early Learning Programs and Data Systems
Governor Brown’s May Revise keeps funding for K-12 public education relatively stable, but makes cuts to critical early learning and development programs. The current meager budget appropriations for public early education and K-12 are essential and should continue to be protected. It’s indefensible that many California government services rank near the top in per capita funding nationally, yet education remains well below the national average. Moving forward, California should implement a comprehensive approach that invests new revenues and implements necessary structural reforms in education (see The Children’s Agenda for California, Goal 1).
Overall, Children Now applauds Governor Brown’s effort to protect public K-12 education funding from further decimation, but we have grave concerns about the proposed elimination of federal funding for the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) and California Longitudinal Teacher Information Data Education System (CALTIDES). These systems together serve as the backbone of California’s student information system, providing needed data to inform public policy and support continuous improvement at the local level. The Legislature and Governor Brown should reinstate these funds to ensure California does not take a step backward on efforts to use student information to inform decisions and support student success (see The Children’s Agenda for California, Goal 5).
The Revise also proposes a cut of $97.2 million to early learning and development programs. This reduction comes on top of approximately $720 million in cuts approved by the Legislature in March, as well as $1 billion in cuts to state and local First 5 commissions (although the $1 billion in savings is not assumed in the May Revise due to pending litigation). Additionally, Governor Brown proposes the elimination of the Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC), which has received $10.8 million in federal funding to improve the state’s early learning and development system by developing a Quality Rating Improvement System pilot, coordinating an early childhood data system and strengthening the early care and education workforce. Eliminating ELAC would not only result in a $3.6 million decrease in federal funds for 2011-12, but would leave California ill-positioned to compete for future federal funding opportunities, such as the new Race to the Top Early Learning Initiative (see The Children’s Agenda for California, Goal 3).
Significant Changes to Health Programs
Children’s health has been jeopardized by significant budget cuts over the past few years, and this year is no exception. Unfortunately, most of the cuts that impact children’s health were approved by the Legislature in March. They include increased premiums for children in Healthy Families; increased co-payments for both Healthy Families and Medi-Cal; a provider payment reduction of 10%; and a $3.3 million cut to vision services for Healthy Families. Even before the cuts were approved, California already ranked among the worst states in per-child spending in Medicaid (see The Children’s Agenda for California, Goal 7).
The May Revise proposes to move all 890,000 children in Healthy Families into Medi-Cal. The transition would start in January 2012 and save the state $31.2 million in the 2011-12 budget year. If approved, it would dramatically change the landscape of children’s coverage. The Legislature must deliberately and thoughtfully consider this proposal with strong input from children’s advocates. Children Now will only support the proposal if the state can ensure timely access to specialty and primary care providers, quality health care services, and careful implementation, so no child loses coverage during the transition. Additionally, a large portion of any accrued savings must be reinvested to support other critical children’s services that have suffered from previous budget cuts.
For the current Healthy Families Program (until the proposed consolidation happens), the Revise seeks to decrease funding by $5.3 million in 2010-11 and $12.6 million in 2011-12 to reflect decreased enrollment. There is also a proposed increase of $34.1 million to fund federally-required payments to clinics that serve children enrolled in Healthy Families.
For Medi-Cal, the Revise seeks to extend an existing hospital quality assurance fee through June 30, 2012, which will result in savings of $320 million through increased federal funding. Additionally, Medi-Cal enrollees would be prohibited from changing managed care plans more than once per year. This proposal would save $1.7 million in 2011-12.
Major Realignment of Child Welfare Services
Governor Brown’s proposal continues to include realignment of public safety programs, such as child welfare services. Realignment would give counties more control over foster care programs and services, and provide additional funding and flexibility. While the concept of realignment is meritorious, there is great risk involved for vulnerable children and families being served by the system—if it is not considered thoughtfully and crafted carefully. If the proposal moves forward, it would reflect the biggest change in child welfare in decades. As such, it must be designed to fully address the needs of children who have been abused and neglected (see The Children’s Agenda for California, Goal 10). Proposed changes include:
- Adoption services will remain at the state level; they will not be realigned to counties.
- The state will retain responsibility for tribal-state agreements in the areas of foster care and child welfare.
- Training activities will remain a contract activity of the state, rather than being aligned to counties.
- Residential services for special education pupils will be realigned to school districts rather than counties (AB 3632).