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’s children deserve to be prioritized in our state spending. Investing fully in California’s youth helps to reduce the rates of poverty, crime, healthcare needs and reliance on government programs. During my time in the Assembly, we have doubled what we invest in each public school student and expanded health care coverage to every child.

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?

Throughout my career I’ve been an advocate for children in the foster care system and I’m proud to have been given the Outstanding Legislator Award by the Children’s Advocacy Institute. I have authored legislation to ensure foster youth have information about appropriate mental health care if needed and to help reduce the number of foster youth who become homeless as they age out of the system. I have also advocated for reduced caseloads for judicial officers who oversee child welfare cases. When judges have lower caseloads they have a greater ability to become intimately familiar with the needs of each foster youth under their jurisdiction. I will continue to fight for policies that protect youth in the foster care system.

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?

I have been an advocate for maternal mental health throughout my career in the Assembly. I wrote a landmark law that required doctors to screen new and
expectant mothers for postpartum depression once before, and once after, giving birth. Alarmingly, before this law there was no requirement that new mothers be screened and far too many women were continuing to suffer in silence and forego seeking treatment. I have also advocated for policies that expand training resources for doctors so that they can become more familiar with identifying and treating maternal mental health disorders. Numerous studies have confirmed the link between the mental health of the mother and the development of the child. Helping to care for mothers, especially new mothers, will have a tremendous impact on children as they grow.

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?

Child care was one of the hardest-hit programs during the pandemic. Low wages for child care providers coupled with insufficient funding have led to even fewer available child care slots. Last year, the child care workers union successfully won an increase in reimbursement rates as well as more resources to recruit and retain providers. I supported them. We must continue to invest in policies that increase the child care workforce and provide adequate reimbursement rates for child care providers who provide care for lower-income families. As a State, we also need to do more to incentivize private businesses to develop child care options for their employees.

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?   

Child care providers are chronically underfunded and under paid. I voted to support Assembly Bill 378 to grant child care providers the ability to collectively bargain for better working conditions, improvements to California’s child care system, and better wages for their workforce. The ability to unionize has already brought about significant change to the child care system in California with the union representatives successfully securing a contract for increased pay rates. I will continue to support the work of the child care workers union.

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 disappointing and the brunt of the impact is being felt by our students. As a State we must increase wages for school professionals including teachers, counselors and nurses and put more money towards loan repayment options that encourage graduates to seek employment in public schools.

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?

Ensuring that each school has personnel trained in providing instruction to dual-language learners or English learners is important in making sure these students succeed. California has made significant investments in programs that support dual language learning and it is important that we continue to fund and monitor those programs to ensure they are effective.

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?

This year California invested over $40 billion to our public higher education
institutions which includes increased funding to the University of California and California State University Systems. I am proud to have pushed for policies that ensure California students receive first priority admission at the University of California ensuring more in-state students are enrolled over out-of-state students.

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?  

As with education and child care, increasing the healthcare workforce is crucial to increasing access to necessary health services. I have pushed for increased loan repayment assistance to encourage more individuals to pursue careers in medicine and practice in underserved areas. In this year’s State Budget, California eliminated reductions in Medi-Cal reimbursement rates that were implemented in response to the Great Recession in 2011. Increasing reimbursement rates will have a positive effect on access to Medi-Cal programs.

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?

One of my top priorities remains addressing mental health issues. In this year’s
State budget, we invested $290 million to help address the mental health crisis facing our youth. Included in this investment is $40 million dollars that will be used for grants to help support efforts that aim to prevent children and youth suicide. Going forward, I will be closely monitoring these efforts to ensure there is equity in how the funds are distributed. We also need to continue to expand training and resources for schools, teachers, parents and caregivers to help identify, refer and respond to youth who are experiencing mental health impacts as well as increasing the number of behavioral health professionals who are experienced in treating youth.