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

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Rebecca Bauer-Kahan

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?

The state of California is currently the 5th largest economy in the world, yet we are near the bottom in per-pupil funding in our public schools, and are lagging in other important areas, like children's health care. I believe that the budget is a representation of our values as a state, and it should reflect our priorities. I would support exploring policies to increase revenues specifically earmarked for education and children's health services.

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?

I support policies that would strengthen the child welfare system. While the system is designed to help foster youth, I know that lack of funding and resources can create new and unforeseen problems. When I was studying at the University of Pennsylvania, I saw firsthand what can happen in underfunded foster care systems, as I worked to ensure that foster youth were not placed in juvenile detention facilities due to a lack of access to loving homes. I believe it is the state's role to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are given the support they need, and I would support policies that strengthen the child welfare 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?

The legislature should prioritize programs that promote and support our current caregivers, and incentivize new adults to become caregivers. We must also ensure caregivers receive the support, training, and assistance necessary to provide stable, loving, and hopefully permanent homes to children in foster care.

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?  

As a mother of three, I was lucky to be able to plan and prepare for a growing family. However, I know that not everyone has the resources to learn about raising a child. Evidenced-based home visiting programs is a solution to providing expectant parents in high-risk communities with the resources they need to provide a happy, healthy home both for themselves and their newborn child. I would support expanding this program.

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? 

Early childhood education and access to safe, reliable childcare are among my top priorities. As a working mother with three young children, I was lucky enough to be able to afford to provide my children with pre-school. As noted in the question, many Californians aren't so lucky and their children pay the price. Studies have shown the importance of early childhood education – children with access to daycare and pre-school have much better outcomes than those who don't. I would make it a top priority to pass universal pre-school for all Californians, as well as increasing funding to our public schools to give every child the opportunity to succeed.

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?

Often a teacher's salary scales with the age of their students – this is an inefficient method as arguably the most important education a child will receive is during early childhood. We should be working to close the salary gap, providing incentives for new teachers to become early childhood educators, and ensure that they have the support and training they need to care and teach for our children effectively in this critical period of their life.

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 believe the first part of this question is a cultural issue that needs to be addressed. Too often people of color are penalized for minor infractions, and the penalties can have ripple effects that further increase the inequalities in our society. I support policies that seek to curtail the racial disparity of these penalties, and also to minimize their impact by helping young people leaving the criminal justice system get the support they need to re-enter society and reduce the recidivism rate.

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 know firsthand the importance of quality teachers in a child's education. I would support policies that fund our schools and put teachers in a better position to succeed – ensuring they have smaller class sizes, that they are not forced to pay out of pocket for class materials, and there is a process in place to train, provide feedback, and help them improve.

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?   

As mentioned above, while we live in the 5th largest economy in the world, our education funding lags the rest of the country. We are 46th in per pupil funding in the United States, and the rankings in the question above are the direct result of the low funding. I support the idea behind the LCFF and ensuring our public schools are fully funded, but I also believe we should working to provide more funding to education.

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 a sad disparity that the students most likely to be bilingual come from lower income families, while being bilingual is an in-demand skill in the modern workforce. As a state, we should be promoting and nurturing bilingual potential, and ensuring our schools have the resources necessary to close the achievement gap among dual language learners to make sure everyone is prepared for the workforce. I support programs, including the TK-12 English Learner Roadmap that seek to solve this problem.

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 strongly support fully funding our public schools, and working to ensure that more of the state budget is dedicated to our children's education, as every child and student should have the opportunity to attend a school that prepares them for 21st-century jobs. This means ensuring every student has access to STEM learning. I have worked to integrate STEM into my children's school with a STEM lab and innovative learning, and all kids should have access to this type of education.

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 fully support policies that make sure anyone who is qualified, prepared, and wishes to get a college degree should have the opportunity. With the drastic economic inequality we currently face, a publicly funded higher education system with affordable tuition is particularly important, as a college degree is still a very strong predictor of current wages. College prices have skyrocketed even since I was in college leaving students with crippling debt that stunts future opportunities and limits options. The interest rates on student loans should not be higher than the interest rates on commercial credit cards. I support policies that promote affordable higher education and limit the impact of predatory student loans.

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?

One of the primary issues with Medi-Cal access is that there aren't enough doctors to ensure everyone gets treatment. This is particularly important for low-income families and children, as lack of access to healthcare only worsens already existing inequalities. I would work to ensure there is adequate funding for Medi-Cal, and support programs that seek to improve access – whether by incentivizing new regional providers or improving transportation and access to already existing healthcare providers.

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?

I believe that investing in our children's health and education is one of the most important things a government can do. The EPSDT is particularly important because it has been shown that low-income children are disproportionately affected by health issues that can be treated through this program. I would support educational and marketing programs to ensure that families are aware of this service and can benefit from it.

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?

Studies have shown that poor oral health can lead to a multitude of negative side effects for children, and not just physical consequences, but academic and emotional consequences as well. I support the Dental Transformation Initiative that supports local projects that seek to address this issue by both educating parents and caregivers and finding innovate treatment solutions. As an Assemblymember, I would work to find community solutions that make sure all children have access to dental care, including making treatment and screenings available in schools.