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

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Shirley Weber

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?

Surely California can do better in funding programs that impact children and families. During my time in the legislature as a member and chair of the budget, I made childcare and education priorities. We increased funding for schools, child care and early health programs for children. We are not where we should and need to be, however, we have taken some steps to get there. I will continue to be an advocate for prioritizing funding for our children and the elderly.

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?

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?

2-3. California’s child welfare system should not be the strongest link to a pipeline to prison. As state trustees, we must make sure the children that the state has become legal guardians to receive the highest support and opportunities to strive. To that end, I have supported legislation that give foster children greater opportunities for support in K-12 through the LCFF structure as well as opportunities and support in our post secondary systems. As the chair of the Health and Human Services budget in the Assembly, I increased funding for foster parents who are kin. The inequity in funding that made it harder for relatives to become foster parents was unacceptable and counter to the best interest of the child. Making it easier for responsible relatives to care for their family members strengthen our system and provided the familial connection foster children need.

I will continue to work on issues to help our foster children.

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?  

This is an important aspect of helping mothers take advantage of the most important years of their child’s life (0-3 yrs). We must increase the funding to assist these mothers because if successful, it saves us funding in the future as we struggle to repair lives that could have been set on the correct path from the beginning.

As we expand, we need to meet these mothers where they are. San Diego County used texting as method to stay in touch with new mothers to provide encouragement, information and reminders.

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? 

We need to overhaul our childcare system to simplify its structure for eligibility. We need to move to a Childcare for All model with a sliding scale so all children in California have access to quality childcare and preschool. The tragedy is working families cannot afford quality childcare because of the high cost and poverty level of eligibility. There should be a subsidy for all Californians based on income.

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?

The salaries of childcare providers are embarrassing. Many are leaving the profession because our demands for training and education for the providers are not commensurate with the pay. We must pay these professionals who care for our children better. We provided some funding to address this issue. However, we have not done enough.

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 have been working on eliminating suspensions and expulsions because they generally make the problems worse. I have supported and co-sponsored legislation to eliminate expulsions for defiance. In an environment where people believe that the only way to achieve order is through these methods, it is difficult to pass legislation. Thus far, we have been able to stop suspensions and expulsions in k-3. We are working on k-6 this year.

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 have authored several legislation to deal with teacher accountability and transparency. These have been vetoed by the governor. I have tried to reform our teacher tenure system to make it more supportive of teachers during the probation period by making it longer (3 years - the national average), demanding support for struggling teachers and more engagement from administrators. Through political wrangling the bill was amended to make it dysfunctional. 2019, we will reintroduce these measures to strengthen our teaching corp.

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?   

California’s distinction of being at the bottom of funding and essential services for education is unacceptable. We must address the issue, not because we don’t want to be on the bottom of funding, but we want to be #1 in student achievement and results.

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?

Some of my early legislation support bilingual education and standards Additional, I supported Senator Lara’s senate bill on dual language emersion for all.

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?

STEM education is extremely important, especially in poor neighborhoods. I serve on the Link Learning board and STEM is a priority and is being incorporated in career based education. I will continue to support state and local programs around STEM.

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 have supported increase in funding for our UC, CSU and CCC system and will continue to do so.

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 fund health care for all children, yet we fall short in access. We have continued to support physicians committed to addressing inner city needs through special intern programs. I have formed a health committee in my district focused on health needs of poor kids and families. . We are working on getting information out and bringing resources into those communities of extreme need.

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 must remove the stigma regarding mental health services in our community. We need to provide the services in our schools and local communities. More is being done to address the mental health needs. I continue to support these efforts and serve on the select committee addressing this issue.

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?

The best avenue to reach these children is through the schools and preschools. So schools have dental assistance in their school clinics. Partnering with our local providers would give us the opportunity to reach into the homes of the children and develop a value for dental hygiene.