1. California ranks among the top states in per capita expenditures on a number of government programs (i.e. corrections, law enforcement, general government), but just near or below the national average on expenditures for kids’ 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?
California is fortunate to have an unprecedented $300 billion budget that has put us in a better position than ever to fund programs. I am encouraged at recent progress made by the Newsom administration on expanding funding for programs that will make a big difference for our kids, but we need more. Childcare is infrastructure. Families need supports. Our foster care system, our schools, our youth enrichment opportunities like art, sports, music and dance all need funding. I support the substantial investments the State has made in the last several years in child care, pre-K, transitional kindergarten, and early childhood education. There is more progress to be made, and I intend to champion these very types of programs in the State Legislature.
2. California assumes responsibility for abused and neglected children when we remove them from their homes. Therefore, the State is legally obligated to ensure that children and youth in foster care receive vital services and supports to meet their unique needs and find safety, stability and success. How would you strengthen the child welfare system?
I have a great deal of professional experience working with the child welfare system. In 2004 I opened a consulting firm with my late father, who led foster care for the State of California and was the child welfare director in San Diego County. Our small business focused on helping large agencies implement programs to help serve populations facing extraordinary barriers to success – which included foster youth, parolees, incarcerated individuals, transition age youth, and families in the child welfare system.
This is another area where recent budgets have delivered some victories, including expanded educational opportunities for foster youth and targeted one-time resources for the most at-risk youth. The State must continue to provide ongoing funding to ensure that counties and community-based organizations have the tools to administer these critical programs.
3. California ranks poorly in national reports for supporting families with infants and toddlers. The state does invest in programs like evidence-based home visiting – which provide guidance, offer coaching, and connect parents and caregivers to health and social services – but those only reach about 2% of families with young children. What strategies, if any, do you support to aid new and expectant parents and young children during this critical phase of life?
These types of programs are crucial for so many parents and children. I am a strong advocate of wraparound services as a strategy to support those who need assistance – whether it be to new and expectant parents, or our unsheltered population. I would happily champion new and/or ongoing funding for government programs or community-based organizations that do this type of work. I am very proud of the work I’ve done in Sacramento around addressing Black infant mortality rates through our investment in programs like the Black Child Legacy Campaign.
4. More than 2.75 million young children live in California, with the majority being income-eligible for child care assistance. Yet just a fraction of eligible children have access to subsidized child care spaces, due to insufficient funding for child care capacity. This gap is most pronounced for infants and toddlers, where child care subsidies served only 14% of eligible families (pre-pandemic). 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?
This issue is personal to me. As a young single mom, it was only through the availability of a subsidized chiId care program (Child Action, Inc.) that I was able to work full-time and put myself through UC Davis and law school. During this time, I also had to navigate low-income housing, welfare, and food stamps for me and my son.
Having a social safety net to rely on meant everything for me and my son’s future. Access to child care isn’t just important for people who have children – it’s an economic issue too. In order for us to recruit and retain the workforce needed to keep doors open and businesses going, we must find solutions for employees to attain child care. This is why I championed child care for essential workers, opening 11 sites citywide within 72 hours of the COVID-19 shutdown. This effort kept our city running by supporting front line workers. There are many reasons to support increased access to child care, and I am prepared to fight for all of them when I am elected to the Senate.
5. The average salary of a California public employee is nearly $87,000, while the average salary of a California child care provider is $35,400, and most other professionals who work with kids are also below the public employee average. What are your ideas, if any, about responding to this disparity?
Just as we need to make sure all of our workers have access to child care, so must we make sure there is a workforce ready to provide that care. Offering competitive living wages is an important part of that. I am proud to be endorsed by UDW AFSCME 3930, which represents tens of thousands of family child care workers across California, and intend to be their champion in the State Legislature in fighting for investment in their members.
6. The latest available data shows California ranks 49th among the 50 states in teacher-to-student ratio, 47th in school counselors, and 46th in school administrators. We also rank near the bottom in terms of school nurses, with approximately one nurse for every 2,400 students and no nurses at all in some smaller counties. What are your thoughts on these rankings, and what, if anything, should be done in response?
These rankings are unacceptable. During my time on City Council, I have worked in creative ways to get more funding for our schools, despite two recessions. Specifically, I have championed two school bonds and one library ballot measure securing a combined $300 million to support education in the city of Sacramento. I will continue to seek out ways to bring our students’ learning experience to a higher level. California should lead the nation in educational outcomes.
7. 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 should the State 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 am in support of programs and resources that would allow educators to receive the professional training they need to further their skills. This includes any professional development deemed necessary and effective at equipping our educators to serve students who are dual language learners. I am proud to have championed a school bond that paved the way for the Heredia-Arriaga School, a public school with a Spanish dual language immersion program, to be built in my city council district.
8. Over the past 40 years, state spending on higher education has dropped from 18% to 12% of the state budget. What is your position on funding for public higher education?
A higher education should be accessible and affordable to all. Part of that includes a level of funding from the state to ensure tuition costs do not increase for California students, no matter where they go to school. The cost of college is out of reach for far too many families, and indebtedness for decades after graduation is not a viable solution. California must invest more in higher education.
9. 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 important childhood screenings, especially for children of color. In addition, many California children lack access to oral health care, vision services, hearing aids, and mental health and substance abuse supports and services. What would you do, if anything, to increase access to these services?
We must ensure our education and health care systems are equitable and it’s our responsibility to address and mitigate the damage done to communities of color. I am proud to be endorsed by the outgoing Senator Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician who has championed this cause for years. There are many ways government can help. In Sacramento, I led an effort to add fluoride to our water permanently. That policy decision has had major impacts on oral health for children in the Sacramento region.
10. The suicide rate among Black youth has dramatically increased in recent years. In addition, Major Depressive Episodes (MDE) among youth have grown, but only about one third of youth with an MDE received treatment. What should be done to ensure that more children receive needed mental health supports and services?
In my current role, I’ve consistently voted and worked to secure additional funding to address mental health crises, help our unhoused neighbors, and ensure other nonviolent community needs are met without police intervention. That includes my proud support of a new city department that shifts mental health crises, homeless and other nonviolent calls away from police officers and instead directs them to licensed clinical social workers.
With respect to our youth specifically, I worked during the COVID-19 pandemic to develop a mental health and suicide prevention campaign targeting at-risk teens. I also partnered with my local school district to provide mental health programming and resources to students during the pandemic and beyond.
As a young teen, I served as a child advisor to the working group that established California’s first runaway/suicide hotline. I was 13 at the time. My job was to help with the messaging and images that would draw the attention of youth in crisis. Later, at age 15, I would become the youngest counselor to work at the hotline, answering calls from incoming teens in trauma from around the state. This area is familiar to me and I have a record of delivering results on this issue.