National, state, and local research, policy and advocacy to improve the lives of kids

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Buffy Wicks

Questions

 

1. California ranks among the top states in per capita expenditures on a number of government programs, but below the national average on expenditures for children’s programs, including education and Medi-Cal. What are your thoughts on this prioritization of expenditures and what, if any, changes would you make in this regard?

 

California once had the best public schools in the country. Families moved west in search of better opportunity and quality education for their children. Unfortunately, California now ranks 47th out of 50th in standard of living for children. One in four children goes hungry every day. We rank 41st in the nation on spending per child. Access to quality schools and health care all too often is determined by where a child lives, creating glaring racial and socioeconomic inequities. We are failing many of our children; especially children of color. We urgently need a “kids-first” agenda, one that prepares our students for the changing workforce of the future. We must invest in our children by investing in our schools and enacting bold reforms that champion children’s well-being in all issues.

Fundamentally, our public systems and structures that serve our children will not improve until we better fund them. We have built 22 prisons but just 1 new University of California campus since 1980 — it’s high time we re-prioritize our students in our state funding processes. This starts with reforming Prop 13 to ensure that large companies pay their fair share, and it means moving our dollars away from incarceration systems and towards child wellness systems.

 

I’ve demonstrated my commitment to this kids-first agenda in my current campaign and my previous work--as a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress, I launched a national policy initiative with Planned Parenthood and SEIU to fight for better economic conditions for women and families. And the past few years, I have led California’s Common Sense Kid Campaign to empower parents to advocate for better opportunities for their children. If elected, I would fight tirelessly to turn my progressive “kids-first” agenda into concrete change for kids and families throughout the district and state.

 

2. When children who have been neglected or abused enter foster care, the state becomes their legal parent, and bears responsibility for their care and supervision and to ensure they have the opportunity to heal and thrive. What is your position on the need for strengthening the child welfare system?

 

When nearly 1 in 8 children will be victims of maltreatment before their 18th birthday, we cannot say that we are fulfilling our commitments to California’s kids and families. We must strengthen our child welfare system to reduce the number of children who are victims of maltreatment, and better care for those who do experience abuse or neglect. That doesn’t mean taking more children from their families--where possible, we can and should invest further in preventative programs like therapy and home visit services that keep families together where possible and provide the supports they need. In order to better identify families that need such preventative services, we must also add more mental health resources and training in our schools, so teachers and staff can recognize signs of child trauma and quickly take action to connect them to supportive services.

 

When children are victims of maltreatment that makes them unable to live safely with their families, it is the state’s responsibility to care for our kids. I support California’s Continuum of Care Reform Efforts that rely on community-based family care-- we know that children are healthier and happier when they are placed with stable families. We should be proud that in the last decade, California has prioritized family-based foster placements over congregate care--resulting in a 45% decrease in congregate home placement. But we still have much work to do to strengthen our foster care system, including: making it easier to place foster youth with relatives, ensuring that reimbursement rates for foster families (especially relatives) cover the full cost of caring for a child’s unique needs, providing better community-based health services, further streamlining services between schools and public agencies, and providing stronger supports and higher education opportunities for those aging out of the foster care system.

 

 

3. California has a significant shortage of highly-trained and well-supported caregivers to open their homes to children who have been abused and neglected and enter foster care. What strategies would you support, if any, to increase the number of safe and loving families for children in foster care?

 

Studies show that foster children do best when they can stay in their communities with relatives that they already know--these “kinship” placements help keep kids connected to their communities, and these kids report more positive emotional health compared to their peers. But currently, relatives who take in foster youth are often classified differently as non-kinship foster parents, and receive, on average, less funding and support from the state. The 2014 Approved Relative Caregiver Funding Program has made positive progress to equalize funding for all foster families, but we need to pass legislation that does more to ensure that kinship foster parents receive equal funding and services to enable them to effectively care for the children that are placed with them.

 

We also know that foster parents tend to be older and have lower incomes than other households. This means that it’s critical that we have a robust social safety net that supports these adults and gives them the capacity to be loving caregivers for foster children. And I support California’s Emergency Child Care Bridge Program, which assures that foster children will have quality and affordable early childhood education while living with families.

 

For all our foster families, we should improve our training and supervision systems to make sure all families are equipped to provide safe and loving homes for foster children. We can also bolster our foster family capacity by reducing the rate at which foster youth must transition between families. I support the Legislature’s passage of AB2247, which facilitates greater foster youth placement stability and restorative practices that can prevent unnecessary foster youth placement changes, and I urge Governor Brown to sign it into law.

 

 

4. California committed state dollars for the first time this year to evidenced-based home visiting programs, yet they will still reach only 2% of families with young children. What are your thoughts on increasing access to evidence-based home visiting? What other strategies, if any, do you support to aid new and expectant parents and young children during this critical phase of life?

 

Home visiting programs are critical tools that are shown to reduce the risk of childhood trauma and can prevent a child from having to enter the foster care system in the first place. We should be prioritizing such preventative work that can keep families and kids together in healthy and caring homes. To work well, these home visits need to be reaching families when they are expecting and/or new parents, so that they can get the early supports they need to be able to support their children, especially those children who have heightened behavioral or mental health needs.

 

I support Children Now’s recommendation to create a statewide prevention program for children at risk of abuse or neglect -- such a program would include broad home visit services that give needed supports and coping strategies to expecting and new parents struggling to care for their children, and would enact early interventions in homes at risk of child maltreatment.

 

5, Sixty-two percent of the state’s children are born into low-income households, yet only 14% of income-eligible infants and toddlers are enrolled in a publicly-supported child care program.  What is your position on this issue, and what, if anything, should be done to ensure that all families have access to high-quality child care?

 

Since children begin to learn from the day they are born, we should think of early child care as an entitlement, like K-12 school, social security, or Medicare.

 

This is one of my top campaign priorities. Too many parents working minimum wage jobs simply cannot afford childcare, and when they have to take time off work to care for their children, they lose the hourly wages they rely on. The lack of affordable childcare deprives children of childhoods, and deprives parents of economic opportunity.

 

I believe we must commit to universal access to high quality early learning and care programs for children 0-5 years old by doing the following:

1. Ensure that all 4-year-old children have universal access to transitional kindergarten or other high-quality, developmentally appropriate preschool, and ensure that children age 0–3 have access to safe, developmentally appropriate care. This system of child care, early childhood education, and preschool should be open to all children, regardless of their race or ethnicity, language, physical or mental ability or their families' income. As with health care, the state should offer a sliding scale based on a family’s ability to pay for care, with full subsidies for the lowest-income families.


2. Create a “one-stop shop” online portal that operates in conjunction with physical regional referral centers to provide parents and caregivers with easy identification of and access to all available early childhood services.

 

3. Foster high-quality early childhood education by adopting an aligned and coherent system of goals and developmentally appropriate practices that runs through child care, preschool, transitional kindergarten, and primary grades.

 

4. Consolidate and coordinate the state’s early learning and care programs to simplify access and delivery of services for children and families.

6. The average salary of a California public employee is over $81,000. The average salary of a California preschool educator is just over $34,000, and that of a child care provider is just over $26,000. What are your ideas, if any, about responding to this disparity?

 

To truly invest in our children and in our early care and education systems, we need to make early child care a more competitive option for our workforce--that means higher wages and better benefits for our early child care workers. Although the cost of child care at daycares is through the roof, our caregivers are still some of the lowest paid workers in our society .Early child care and education have strong impacts on kids’ cognitive development and lifelong trajectories, and we need to acknowledge the importance of this work in our compensation rates for early child caretakers and educators.

 

We should professionalize the care industry by encouraging unionization of the workforce, providing professional development and apprenticeship programs and increasing their educational requirements so early caregivers can receive the same pay as other public employees. Early childhood care workers and educators should also have access to free community college as well as housing assistance to make sure they can live where they work.

 

 

7. Students of color are more likely to be suspended and expelled, which contributes to significant achievement gaps and ultimately the pipeline from school to prison. What are your thoughts on how the Legislature should respond to this issue?

 

Our suspension and expulsion practices are explicitly inequitable, disproportionately impacting students of color--African American students are up to three times more likely to be suspended than their peers. This comes from our ingrained biases and inadequate student support systems--we need to change our strategies and interventions to support all students while still prioritizing safe learning environments.

 

Suspending and expelling students does not often “fix” any problems--on the contrary, these students are much more likely to drop out of school or be in contact with the juvenile justice system in later years. While recent state legislation rightfully creates stricter standards for suspension decisions, we must also provide districts more funding and resources for restorative justice programs that can serve as effective and just behavior management structures. Oakland Unified Schools have proven that such programs work--their adoption of restorative justice programs throughout all middle and high schools has led to significant decreases in suspension rates and chronic absence rates.

 

Improving our practices around school discipline structures directly makes our criminal justice system more equitable and just. Currently, 75% of young people currently incarcerated are arrested for non-violent behavior, and 80% of them are African American or Latino. African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be incarcerated after arrest while white youth are more likely to be sent to diversion programs. Incarcerated youth are much more likely to have been victims of trauma and over half have mental health issues. Locking them up will not address these underlying issues and will certainly not make our communities safer.

We should support community-based services and restorative justice programs like RYSE in Richmond, which produce better outcomes for youth, reduce recidivism, and combat the school-to-prison pipeline.

 

 

8. Educational research highlights the strong correlation between student success and teacher quality. What changes to state policy would you support, if any, to help ensure that every public school teacher is effective?

 

Every child should have access to great teachers, who play such a critical role in students’ academic, social, and emotional development-- this access should not depend on how much money their parents make or what neighborhood they live in.

To work towards this reality, first and foremost, we must pay our teachers more. Teachers should make enough to live in the communities they teach and have sustainable lifestyles, so that we can reduce teacher turnover and keep great teachers in the classroom. We also should reinstate recruitment and incentives programs to attract and retain racially and culturally diverse teachers.

 

We also need to pass legislation that makes our teacher training and evaluation system more robust and supportive, starting with bringing more coaches into classrooms to help teachers hone their crafts and receive feedback that helps them improve year after year. Quality teacher training programs have the potential to help teachers provide up to 2.5 more months worth of learning to their kids--this kind of teacher performance is incredibly important in narrowing achievement and opportunity gaps in our low-income schools. Yet too often, teachers in our most under-resourced schools lack access to quality training, creating an ongoing negative cycle that harms both our kids and our teachers. I believe that student test scores are an important factor in evaluating teacher performance, but they should be one of several measures used to ultimately evaluate performance. In addition, the tests that students are taking must be well-designed, and teachers must be trained and supported in how to analyze student achievement data to inform their instruction of students.

 

 

9. California nationally ranks 50th in class size, 50th in school librarians, 49th in school counselors and 47th in school administrators. What are your thoughts on these rankings, based on staff to student ratios, and what, if anything, should be done in response?

 

These rankings speak to a critical school staffing shortage, which impacts our low-income schools most and which exacerbates student achievement and opportunity gaps. When classes are too big, it’s the students who most need support that often get left behind.

 

 In order to reverse these trends, we need more funding for our public schools so that we can hire more teachers, administrators, librarians, nurses, social workers, counselors, and other critical school staff. We know that when we have more money in our education system--when we passed Prop 30, for example--student-to-teacher ratios drop, which is good for everyone. I am committed to fighting to reform Prop 13 and bringing billions of dollars to our schools annually to address these staffing shortages. I am honored to have been endorsed by groups such as Evolve CA and the Association of California School Administrators, who know that I will prioritize this work if elected.

 

 

10.   California has the highest percentage of kids who are dual language learners, ages 0-5, (60%) and school-age English learners (21%) in the country. How will you support these students’ bilingual/multilingual potential? What are your thoughts on how educators in early education and TK-12 can be prepared to assist these students to meet their language development needs?

 

It is incredible that so many of our students are engaging in multilingual learning at a young age--such programs and curricula reflect the amazing diversity of our state. We have about 1.4 million English language learners in our schools, of whom 83.5% speak Spanish. I fully support legislation and programs that fund and support bilingual/multilingual learning. And I supported Prop 58, which implemented the California Multilingual Education Act of 2016 and eliminated administrative and organizing hurdles that parents and teachers had to go through to enroll their children in bilingual/multilingual immersion programs.

 

Moving forward, we need to support districts in implementing and tracking their Local Control and Accountability Plans to understand the impact of such programs on student learning, and invest in teacher training and recruitment programs that bring more multilingual staff into our schools.

 

11.   In the last decade, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs in California grew by 19% and currently represent 7 of the 10 fastest growing occupations. Yet many high schools don’t offer the STEM courses needed for college or STEM careers, such as calculus, physics and chemistry. What are your thoughts on the need to support and increase access to high-quality STEM instruction in our schools?

 

Demand for STEM-based jobs is skyrocketing in our state and country, and yet far too many of our schools have inadequate STEM courses that limit students’ abilities to be college- and career-ready. Right here in the Bay Area, we are home to some of the most innovative tech startups and companies in the world; yet, our under-resourced schools too often lack the technology, curricula, and staff needed to prepare our students for jobs in this dynamic industry.

 

We must address these contradictions by investing in STEM teachers and rigorous curriculum resources that prioritize project-based learning, local internships, and other real-world learning applications. We should especially invest in and leverage community programs that engage girls and kids of color, who have traditionally been left out of STEM learning and degree opportunities in our state and country. I fully support the work Children Now is doing through the California STEM Network to connect schools, businesses, community organizations, and philanthropic programs and promote greater collaboration on STEM teaching and learning initiatives.

 

 

12.   Over the past 40 years, total state spending on higher education has declined by 6%, dropping from 18% to 12% of the state budget. There are an increasing number of students graduating from high school and eligible for college enrollment. What is your position on funding for public higher education?

 

California needs a new plan to meet the urgent challenges students face and to propel future generations of Californians. That starts with making our community colleges free and open to all. But as a community college graduate, I also know that tuition and fees are only part of the equation. We need to do much more to make sure students have enough financial aid to afford meals and a safe roof over their head, so that no student has to choose between going hungry and buying a textbook or paying for class credits.

As a state lawmaker, I will fight to fix funding for the California State University and University of California systems to end the vicious cycle of rising tuition and fees. We need to secure a permanent funding source for these systems, so that we can begin rolling back tuition and fees and expand our university system to serve many more students. Since 1980, California has built 22 prisons but just 1 new University of California campus — it’s high time we re-prioritize our students and our higher education institutions in our state funding processes. And the state investment in our colleges and universities more than pays for itself through their contributions to innovation, job creation and increased incomes for graduates. At UC, within five years of graduation, the majority of Pell grant recipient students will earn more than their family. As the state grapples with the growing income inequality, investments in education can advance social and economic mobility while supporting state workforce needs. But we must invest more public dollars.

 

13.   Over 55% of California’s kids are enrolled in Medi-Cal, but California performs near the bottom amongst all state Medicaid programs when it comes to children’s access to primary care physicians and periodic childhood screenings, especially for children of color. What are your thoughts on this issue?

 

While we should be proud that Medi-Cal is able to serve so many of our families, we clearly are not investing enough in our Medi-Cal system to ensure all children have access to quality health care and doctors. Schools are community hubs for our students and families, and we need to better leverage them as resources to connect kids and families to quality health care, especially in low-income neighborhoods. To ensure that all children have consistent and quality access to doctors and childhood screenings, we need to increase the number of health care professionals like nurses in schools, and include routine child health screenings as a routine part of all schools.
 
In the long run, I believe we must bring single-payer health care to California to ensure that our children have truly universal quality access to health care resources like primary care physicians and health screenings. A single- payer system would ensure health care security for working people and health equity for all communities.

I believe I am the strongest healthcare candidate in this race--I have been endorsed by leading health care organizations including Planned Parenthood and CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates, who champion community clinics like LifeLong throughout our state. If elected, I will tackle tough spending questions and champion creative policy solutions to keep moving us towards a full single-payer system where every child in California has access to quality health care.

 

14.   Less than 5% of children eligible for specialty mental health services under the early & periodic screening diagnosis & treatment (EPSDT) Medi-Cal benefit actually receive any service. What is your position on this issue and what, if anything, should be done to ensure that more eligible children receive mental health care?

Currently, 7% of California’s kids struggle with serious mental health issues, and mental health emergencies are the top reason for children ER visits statewide. Our kids cannot do well in school or lead happy, healthy lives in their community if they are struggling with mental or behavioral health needs. Statewide, far too few of our children are accessing mental health services, which translates into lifelong negative impacts.

 

Currently, children access mental health services through a complex combination of different agencies, programs, and providers, and many funding limitations exist on allowable service types and purposes. This system makes it understandably difficult for many families to identify and utilize mental health services for their kids. We need to rework our mental health service and funding structure so that the ownness is not on families, but on our public system managers, to bring service access to our children. I would support the implementation of a “One Child, One Plan” to coordinate and streamline services for children with mental health needs.

 

I support adding new preventative programs and interventions in schools to help students achieve social and emotional well-being, and that also means significantly increasing our mental health staff and resources in our schools.

 

We also must bolster the capacity of our safety net hospitals and community clinics who serve primarily low-income communities to meet the mental needs of their child and adult parents, who are often overexposed to environmental hazards, behavioral health needs and substance abuse risks because of the glaring inequities in our other public systems.

 

 

15.   Despite the fact that the top reason children miss school in California is due to preventable oral health problems, millions of children in the state lack access to dental services. What is your position on this issue and what, if anything, should be done to address access for children, including 0-5 year olds, to oral health services?

 

Each year, California’s emergency rooms see over 25,000 children with dental-related issues, and schools report over 500,000 dental-related student absences. Poor oral health, which low-income kids experience disproportionately, can lead to significant long-term health issues and limit student success in school.

 

It’s critical that we monitor and identify students who are not accessing oral health needs early in their lives and connect them to affordable and quality dental care. Community clinics and health programs can lead such work, but they need increased funding to do so. And early childhood care and education systems are the ideal structure for screening and prevention programs, but we need to do much more to bolster these systems and ensure they include all of our kids.