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

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Michelle Singleton

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?

As Delaine Eastin, our state's former Superintendent of Public Instruction, frequently states, budgets are statements of values. Education and health care should be among the top priorities of the state to ensure our children have the opportunity to thrive in the 21st century. Early investment in children, particularly in the areas of education and healthcare, will help alleviate the number of individuals in adulthood that will be in of need of government assistance. Reprioritization of the state's budget is a moral, ethical,, and fiscal imperative.

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?

California's child welfare system needs to be strengthened to support the social, emotional, academic, and physical well-being of the child. Social workers need smaller caseloads so the well-being of the child can be actively monitored. Additionally, our system needs to provide more specialized services particularly in remote areas throughout the state. Children need access to immediate and on-going counseling to address the trauma related to the initial neglect and/or abuse as well as the transition into foster care. We need more collaborative services and monitoring for the child between our public schools and 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?

To increase the number of safe and loving families for children in foster care, I would advocate for more resources to help support the families and individual child in care. Family training and easy access to help-lines and other behavioral services are needed mandatory improvements. Additionally, I would improve the Resource Family Approval placement process so more children can be placed with family members. Currently, there are not enough state resources to expeditiously approve homes of relatives in order for children to be placed. The emergency funding that was made available through AB-110 which provided funds to help relative caregivers during the intermediary period of a home approval and before federal funds are available, need to become a regular budgetary item.

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?  

ACA allocated federal funds, state funds, and CalWORKs could collectively be used to expand access to evidence-based home visits. CalWORKs Home Visiting Initiative needs to become a permanent budgetary item. Open and continuous enrollment would also help with expanding accessibility. Other strategies to support new and expectant parents and young children could include protection of the well-baby check-up mandate of the ACA through state legislation, resources and information available at public schools, and comprehensive, paid family leave.

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? 

I support expanding the qualifications for Earned Income Tax Credits to assist families in being able to afford access to child care. I also support tax incentives for employers that provide high-quality child care for their employees. Additionally, I support universal preschool for all of California's children. Pre-K programs help all students, but particularly children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

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?

This disparity can be addressed by unionizing preschool educators and child care providers. Salary schedules based on educational attainment and years of experience that are used for elementary and secondary school public employees should be used for public preschool educators and child care providers.

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?

The Legislature should promote non-exclusionary restorative practices, reduce student-to-counselor ratios to provide comprehensive mental health support, implement social emotional learning standards, and fund wraparound services to promote positive behavioral intervention. More opportunities and guidance needs to be available in our schools to help students excel.

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?

To improve teacher effectiveness, I would support policies such as reducing classroom sizes, recruitment incentives for highly-qualified teachers in areas of high demand, allocation of time and resources for ongoing collaboration and professional learning, and adhere to site LCAP reports to ensure funding and resources are reaching areas of need and improvement so educators have the tools they need to be effective.

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?   

The impact of these rankings is reflected in our state's low student performance. Staff-to-student ratios need to be drastically reduced so that are students have more accessibility to highly-skilled professionals that can monitor and address the individual social, emotional, physical, and academic needs.

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?

Quality bilingual and dual immersion programs should be made available to all focusing intensely on the early years when language is naturally occurring. Universal preschool would also significantly help dual language learners due to language and brain development at this age. Family involvement in programs should be encouraged to improve bilingualism at home and at school. Mono-English speakers should also have access since bilingualism is a highly valued skilled in most career fields.

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?

I support the expansion of dual enrollment courses being taught at our public high schools as a method to increase access to high-quality STEM instruction. High school teachers with a Master's degree in their subject area can currently teach college courses on their high school campuses. Some legislation is still needed to accommodate and grow these relationships between high schools and community college such as allocation of ADA funding, required minutes for students per day, and teacher hours and pay. This is an innovative, accessible way to build educational partnerships while also increasing student access to high-quality instruction. I would also like to see our high schools providing apprenticeship preparatory courses that provide students with hands-on application of STEM skills. Apprenticeships, like college, provide individuals with career opportunities in good-paying fields that are high in demand.

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?

I support the California Master Plan which originally fully funded higher education in California universities. Cuts over the past couple of decades to higher education has led to a drastic increase in college tuition and burdening California graduates with unmanageable levels of student loan debt. I support returning per-student funding for CSUs and UCs where it was in 2000. I also believe as a state we have the obligation to ensure every prepared Californian student has a spot in our public universities.

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?

Our children must have access to to a primary care physician and to regular childhood screenings. Accessibility could be increased by offering incentives to health care providers that serve primarily Medi-Cal recipients and to individuals entering the health care professional field. Additionally, counties could planning zoning for medical offices to be near new public school construction so both educational and health care services are in a centralized area.

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?

EPSDT is an important program for some of the most vulnerable children in our state. Every effort should be made that all children that qualify for EPSDT receive the associated services. One area of particular need in related services is primary care physicians. In order to utilize EPSDT, families need access to a primary care physician. California is among the lowest of states in accessibility to primary care physicians through Medicaid. As a state, we need to improve both accessibility and availability of primary care physicians in the state.

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?

All school-aged children should receive regular dental screenings at school similar to current vision and hearing screenings. For pre-K and younger children, basic dental care coverage should be universally covered.