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Sharon Quirk-Silva

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 a former teacher of 30 years, I have seen first-hand how we have not prioritized children programs. I continue to support ongoing efforts to undo the damage done due to recession era cuts to public health programs. Much work remains. But progress also cannot be ignored. This is why I introduced AB 2315 which will promote the partnership between school districts and health plans to provide telehealth services to K-12 students.

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 no doubt that the child welfare system needs to be strengthened. We need to continue working through the budget to provide the appropriate resources to take care of these children who often times need additional services and assessments. We should also consider incentivizing students to pursue child welfare work through student stipends and loan forgiveness programs and ensuring that federal financing includes provisions that maintain a stable and well qualified child welfare workforce. This is why I authored AB 2967, which would provide foster youth with copies of their birth certificates without a fee. Legislation like this is what is needed to remove the hurdles our foster youth face.

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?

This is a huge challenge and one that we must continue to work on at the state level. Willing caregivers face multiple challenges and need additional resources when opening their home to a foster youth. One way is increasing vouchers for child care. One of the biggest obstacles for foster families is the expense of child care. Most families cannot take off time from work and take care of children because they need the income. Giving a voucher would increase the number of families that are willing to become foster families. That is why I supported AB1164. This bill would have also included trauma training which would have helped these children. The parents would know how to better deal with the children and have strategies in helping them deal with the problems they may face.

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?  

We need to do better in reaching these families and providing the resources to do so will be critical. Home visits result in getting new parents and children the tools and skills they need. These investments are some of the smartest things we can do for at risk families. California must continue to build on what we have already done and find ways to better reach these homes.  

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? 

Childcare needs to be more accessible to lower income families. Childcare is expensive and during this critical time in a child’s development the childcare should be high quality. I am a supporter of longer maternity and paternity leave to help combat this issue. This does not solve it completely because the child would still need care. That is why I also believe that the state and federal government should subsidize child care, so parents could afford high quality child care.

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?

California must continue to make strides in providing access to preschool. Although we have invested dollars to expand the state preschool program, much more needs to be done to get us to our goal of universal preschool. Investing in the educators who are going to be critical in getting us to that goal is also critical.

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?

We must do better in developing restorative justice practices to replace expulsion and suspension of students. We know that expulsion and suspension result in negative outcomes for these children, so giving teachers and schools other tools to use will be part of breaking this cycle.

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?

In my 30 years of teaching I have had the opportunity to mentor many young educators. For example, one student is Jeannette Vazquez. I have kept in touch and have helped her over the years. She graduated from UC Berkeley, joined Teach for America, then became an elementary school teacher and is now a school board member. It is important than young teachers like this are given chances to learn and develop into exceptional educators, which also means they need to be flexible in their development.

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 are embarrassing. The response should be to get more funding for schools to lower our classroom sizes. The lack of funding that has caused this problem only damages the children, and does not prepare California effectively for the future. I am fighting to bring more funding into our education system and to bring it back to prerecession cuts. Prerecession cuts will not be good enough, because we still need more to fill these 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?

I was in support of prop 58 in 2016. In a world that is becoming more globalized, I think it crucial that our children know more than one language. Teaching them at a young age where they are able to learn it easier would help drastically. I would be in support of legislation that helps push towards this. With the current teacher crisis in California and lack of bilingual teachers we would have to find ways to incentivize more bilingual students to become teachers. This would greatly help our next generation of children.

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 am a huge supporter of STEM programs. STEM careers are the future and to entice these companies to stay or move to California we need to increase our STEM funding and have a workforce that is able to fill these occupations. I have fought for STEM funding in schools and after school programs. I recently had our local Boys and Girls Club receive $45,000 from the state to increase their STEM program, as well as $1.7 million for STEM funding of the STARBASE youth program in Orange County. These are the types of programs that the state must continue to support.

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?

Access to a college education has been a priority for me while serving in the legislature. I have been an advocate for freezing tuition and finding ways of reducing the cost of tuition, and supported AB 19 by Miguel Santiago to provide first time college students with more resources at our community colleges. We must make sure that Californians can pursue a college education without having to accumulate debt.

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?

We must do better for all these children and close the disparities when it comes to our children of color. Access to physicians and coverage are critical, but that should also include screenings, oral health, and mental health services. As a state we must improve the access and outreach to this kind of coverage.

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?

We need to make sure that the health plans covering these kids include mental health care and that we are providing this care in ways that are most likely going to be accessible to families. Identifying and treating mental health diagnoses will result in better classroom performance for the child, and parents having the best available resources to help their child.

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?

Children should not be missing school for something that is easily fixable. As a teacher I have seen first-hand how the lack of dental coverage can result in children falling behind in the classroom This problem can be fixed by supporting clinics and dentists to establish contracting arrangements to provide dental care to clinic patients. The services need to grow and that is one way for children to have more access.