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Jovanka Beckles

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?

In both my personal life and in my professional career, I have seen first-hand how investing in early childhood education (0-5 years) gives children the best foundation for future success and stable careers. We must look for new sources of funding for such vital programs, as cigarette taxes supply less funds each year. Similar taxes on sugary beverages can be allocated to early childhood development as well as taxation discounts for employers who provide early childhood development stipends.

California is the 5th largest economy in the world. With that amount of capital and the resources we have available in our state, we should be setting new records on spending expenditures for children's programs, especially focusing on education and Medi-Cal. However, the statistic this question reflects shows just how uneven the scales are when it comes to big spending and statewide fund allocation.

I support implementation of Proposition 98 (constitutional funding guarantee for K12 schools and community colleges), and AB 2808 for fair and full funding of schools. We must reform or repeal the Proposition 13 legislation to close loopholes to generate funds for our schools at all levels.

We NEED to put more emphasis on education in this country. New policies in California can help tip national policy to higher investment in education and a single payer healthcare system that works and is accessible to everyone. By emphasizing education, we can correct the school to prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts low-income and communities of color. We need to raise the priority of social programs and mental health programs. By allocating more time and funding to programs that focus on rehabilitation and reintegration, we can address the ineffective correctional system and work towards building more engaged community members instead of creating divisive barriers between neighborhoods.

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?

There is a huge need for, and I am a strong advocate of, strengthening the child welfare system in this state. In my work as a mental health specialist, I have noticed that children who come from challenging and unhealthy home environments and then are placed into foster care tend to suffer from mental health and addiction problems. The foster care system absolutely needs to be improved to serve the needs of the children and families most impacted. Without attention to strengthening these programs with a greater focus on health and well-being, we will continue to see more violence and abuse in these young people and families.

We need to strengthen the child welfare system for multiple reasons. First it helps reinvigorate a sense of community and support for hard working dual and single parent families who otherwise don't have the resources to address these issues. Second, investing more funds and attention towards child welfare system facilitates emphasizing education and working towards resolving mental health issues associated with dysfunctional and broken households. Finally, strengthening the child welfare system would help ensure prevent children being homeless as a consequence of actions taken against their parents. When I get to Sacramento, I will fight to implement these measures through strong child welfare legislation.

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?

We must continue to foster a good working relationship between caregivers and the larger healthcare system to ensure they are receiving the proper training, funding and support. We must invest in career and technical education programs for caregivers.

I will work to develop programs that encourage families to be independent of government welfare. I believe that non-profit organizations play an important role in implementing and providing extra support for our communities and families as partners with government. As public servants working within our government, we have a responsibility to ensure that all underserved communities receive the help they and their family members need. There should be more resources allocated to fostering healthy relationships between our government and local nonprofit organizations for these efforts.

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?  

Families are too often unable to give their children the time and attention they deserve especially during the crucial period of early development. In addition to evidence-based home visiting programs, I believe we should grant longer maternity leave for both parents during the first year of their child's life.

By helping families spend more time with their children we can avoid and address many of the problems related to early child development. More emphasis on, and funding for, training parents can help prepare them best to nurture their children in those crucial early stages of life. Children lacking parental involvement at home are more likely than those with engaged parents to suffer mental health and communicative developmental problems. In Sacramento, I will fight to make sure both parents receive at least one year parental leave during childbirth and will work with colleagues to build programs that educate parents and facilitate their ability to foster a warm and loving environment for their children.

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? 

Ensuring that childcare providers are paid a living wage encourages individuals to enter this industry, and that in turn creates more open spots for local children. Urban areas, where childcare providers are scarce because of the high cost of living, should subsidize childcare costs so middle-class working parents are not forced to leave the city. I support policies to guarantee the security of positions for childcare workers, while also looking at ways that working families could afford to both earn and pay living wages.

Through commercial rent, income, and environmental taxes we can stabilize the General Fund and grow revenue to pay our lowest paid workers and fund crucial programs like healthcare and childcare.

In Sacramento, I will support free childcare for working parents.

I have stood in picket lines with health care workers in my district to fight for collective bargaining rights. I will firmly stand with the state for childcare workers' rights; California childcare workers cannot afford to live and work in the urban areas where they are essential for working families. I will support all campaigns and policy efforts to help these workers negotiate for higher wages and regulations that will help childcare providers prosper.

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?

Our schools will only improve if we respect and reward our teachers for the incredible work they do to build California's future. Stronger teacher compensation will result in improved teacher recruitment, retention, and capacity. I support expanding access to affordable housing for teachers as a priority in my Housing for All plan. I will endorse dedicated funding to enhance teachers' professional development at all levels of public education. I support dignity and due process in the discipline procedure for educators, so teachers are protected from retaliatory and inappropriate punishment.

As an elected leader on City Council, I have worked closely with Richmond's teachers to reduce class sizes, advocate English language learner programs in K-12 and adult education, raise teachers' salaries, and improve nutrition in school meals. Teachers want what's best for their students and communities, and I am tremendously proud to have earned the endorsement of both the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers for this election.

I will work to defend and expand the ability of teachers, and all education workers, to collectively organize to improve working and learning conditions. I pledge to learn from teachers and education workers as I consider policies for improving our education system.

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?

I know from my long experience as a children's mental health worker, and from reading scientific studies, that young people really are different from adults. We must end the prosecution of children as adults. Incarceration of children leads to further criminality, not rehabilitation. We need to break the school-toprison pipeline, care for our children, and thus enable them to pursue productive lives and thus make our communities safer.

The keys to ending the school-to-prison pipeline is improvement in the school system and broadening and integrating the services it provides. In California this starts with reform of the skewed tax system created by Proposition 13. Reform in the property tax system that would assess corporate property at current value rather than purchase price (since there has been low turnover in property held by major corporations) would unleash major funding that could be applied to improving public education at all levels.

As a state legislator, I would favor a prohibition on exclusionary school discipline. I favor AB2657 which would limit the use of behavioral restraints or seclusion only if a student presents an imminent danger of serious harm to the pupil or others and prohibits other purposes. It would require the school to inform and explain the situation to the pupil's parent or guardian within two days of the event.

While I believe that security personnel can play some role in stabilizing school environments while the schools are upgraded – and on a community policing basis rather than as an outside security force – I don't see police as appropriately serving any major role in schools. Most troubled students can be better handled by trained counselors. Police can help to secure areas around schools, but the schools themselves should be communities of learning.

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?

I would continue to take steps to champion teachers. Teachers are on the front lines. They see the barriers children face every day - including those faced by low income, special needs and immigrant children. Teachers are the experts. I believe that one route to maintaining teacher quality is to make sure that the teachers themselves feel included in the vital reform discussions in which we must embark to bring our schools back up to the high quality that we seek. Teachers must be included in discussions focused on closing gaps within the classroom and on improving their working environments.

Educators at all levels will be vital in developing recruitment and retention programs. Teacher representatives and local educators must be included in any commission I take part in to fix our public education system.

As a counselor for underserved youth, I've seen how the lives of our kids and their families can be transformed. As a two-term Richmond, CA, City Council member, I've seen how neighbors can organize a city from hopelessness, violence, and systemic corruption to a much better future. Part of my day job as a Mental Health Specialist includes coordinating with local educators on how to best support them in and outside of the classroom. Inclusion promotes commitment. Committed teachers who believe they have a voice are much more likely to be effective teachers than those who feel overworked and alienated.

Across my career and my elected leadership in Richmond, I have seen how arts, music, and athletics courses can play crucial roles in motivating students to learn, grow, and commit to their education. I will be a strong advocate for improving public education funding for those courses and after-school programs that inspire and motivate students while also building the foundations of culturally thriving communities. An important part of addressing the so-called "achievement gap" is to give teachers flexibility to offer culturally relevant teaching, and to hire teachers with relevant experience. Teachers whose specialties are valued and included in curriculums will be more effective than those teaching to standards disconnected from their passion.

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 show just how little emphasis we put on education in our state, the 5th largest economy in the world. With the finances and resources we have available, California should be leading the nation in these statistics. We once did. We must start with reform of the skewed tax system created by Proposition 13. Assessing corporate property at current value rather than purchase price (since there has been low turnover in property held by major corporations), this would unleash major funding that could be applied to improving public education at all levels.

I advocate a statewide moratorium on new charter schools and an end to unaccountable giveaways of public resources to charter corporations. Charter schools have generally undermined public school quality, failed to provide better education, harmed education worker unions, and worsened working conditions and dignity for teachers. Charters in our state have received hundreds of millions of public dollars for special needs students, but push a high proportion of those students back into the public system.

Local school boards must have the power to deny charter petitions and renewals, and to make facilities decisions based on local education needs and funding. By working with the local school boards and developing after school programs,

In Sacramento, I will strongly support Assembly Bill 2808 to increase public school funding, giving top priority to high-need districts.

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?

As a mental health professional I work with teachers and early childhood educators every day. It is my job to work with a child's guardian, their educators and other invested parties to plan a comprehensive path of success for the student, focusing on education. I work with educators who dedicate their lives to helping underserved communities and students who need extra attention.

Throughout my political career I have worked closely with the local teachers' unions in Richmond to advocate for English As A Second Language instruction for K-12 and for Adult education, to improve the nutrition level of school meals, to raise teacher salaries, and to reduce student: teacher ratio. I fought Big Soda that spent millions as we campaigned to tax their deeply unhealthy products and invest the funds in social programs at school.

In Sacramento, I will be a fierce advocate of hiring more teachers of color, introducing more diversity in the education workforce. We can encourage and emphasize celebrating the multi-cultural communities found in California. In almost all other developed nations, education makes dual language instruction a priority, and most children are able to read and speak in more than three languages.

We have a wealth of potential language teaching talent in our diverse California population. With better working conditions and salaries, we could attract these people to the teaching profession, enabling our schools to benefit from their knowledge. As an interim measure, we must continue efforts within the limits of hiring law to promote affirmative action. As a Richmond City Councilperson I have worked with my colleagues to develop legislation for priority in city contracting and hiring for members of underrepresented groups within the limits of state and federal law.

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?

To set our students up for success we must expand career and technical education programs for all students, including a school-to-union pipeline to train our young people for green-collar union jobs.

We must expand career and technical education programs for all students. Many skilled, well-paying jobs do not require advanced degrees. Opportunities for training for these careers should begin in high school, in coordination with the community colleges. This should include a school-to-union pipeline to train our young people for good union jobs in industries with growing needs such as healthcare, clean energy, and infrastructure work.

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's public education system was once one of the best in the nation. However, five decades of harsh cuts to education, driven by tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, have now left our education system deeply underfunded.

My education platform focuses on a fully-funded public education system. This includes: Provide free tuition for public college for all California residents; Expand public education funding for K- 12 schools to reduce class sizes, improve teacher compensation, and restore arts, music, and vocational courses.

In California's higher education system, students pay exacerbating amounts of tuition, forcing some to choose between paying rent and meals or classes. An alarming amount of Public College students live in their cars or in the streets to get through college.

Teachers want what's best for their students and communities, and I am tremendously proud to have earned the endorsement of both the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers for this election.

In Sacramento, I will support: Immediate legislation like Assembly Bill 204 to waive enrollment fees for community college students; legislation to protect students who are "Dreamers," the children of undocumented immigrants; support inclusive and democratic decision-making for public education. Administration of our higher education system has become overly controlled by corporations and the wealthy few, rather than driven by the needs of working people All public employees deserve pensions for their years of work.

To learn more about my education platform, please visit jovanka.org/education

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?

In the northern part of our district, AD 15, we now have only two hospitals — one that is severely understaffed, and one that is under threat of closure. Such healthcare deserts — communities that lack access to vital healthcare professionals and institutions — exist all over rural and urban California. When we have Medicare for All, hospitals will no longer open and close based on where there's a lucrative market. Taxes will pay for all healthcare services, so facilities will be built where people need them. Until then, we must push the state to establish and fund clinics, hospitals, and transit in underserved areas.

Over the last decades working as a Mental Health Specialist, I have witnessed how black and brown children are underserved due to lack of access and high medical costs.

As a union member and mental health advocate, I have joined the picket lines with my union brothers and sisters to demand a more fair healthcare system in which no parent or their child is turned away due to high insurance costs. .

In April 2011, long before introduction of the current single-payer bill SB 562, I co-authored a resolution adopted by the Richmond City Council supporting a prior single-payer proposal, the California Universal Health Care Act. I'm extremely proud to have the endorsement of the California Nurses Association and SEIU 1021, the largest healthcare workers' organizations in the East Bay.

In Sacramento, I will fight to implement a single-payer, Medicare for All system to cover all California residents, increase funding and standards for healthy school food and nutrition education programs, cover every California resident regardless of employment or citizenship status and coordinate between community colleges, school districts, cities, counties and other public agencies to deliver social work and mental health services.

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?

Living in the fifth largest economy in the world, it is extremely disturbing to know that less than 5% of children are eligible for EPSDT services. All children should be able to receive the health services they need regardless of social class or ethnicity. Even when people have access to medical professionals and have insurance, too many people still fall through the cracks.

As a mental health service provider for 30 years, I am keenly aware of the both the need and the lack of available services for some of the most vulnerable in our society. I have witnessed the decline of individuals who have had to go without services. We have to do better to ensure that services are available to all who need them.

From my work as a mental health professional for a public agency, I have come to believe that our state needs a publicly-funded, comprehensive care coordination program between community care providers including school districts, community colleges, social workers, hospitals, and public health agencies for the delivery of social, physical, and mental health services. We can minimize healthcare errors and make sure everyone is getting connected to the best care available to them only with a public system that integrates health and emergency medical services with interconnected and flexible communication protocols.

Independent economic analysis estimated that the program established by SB 562 would cost the state $331 billion to cover all California residents. That's less than the $368.5 billion currently spent in our forprofit insurance system, which leaves millions uninsured while costing a fortune in co-pays, premiums, deductibles and claim denials to those with insurance. We can fund single-payer with progressive taxes that ensure 95% of Californians will pay less for Medicare for All than their current health costs.

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?

Oral health must be included in our revamped Medicare For All system for exactly this reason and because for older low-income population segments too, access to dental services is crucial to people's overall health and quality of life. My views on oral health are the same as those of medical care more generally, and for preschool children especially. I regard this challenge as one that can be met as in my answer to question #14.