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?

Our investment in the health and education of our children directly impacts the future of our communities and state as a whole. I agree with prioritizing expenditures that support early education and Medi-Cal services. As Chair of the Senate Budget Committee I am proud to have helped pass an inclusive 2018-2019 state budget that increased funding for early education by 16%, raising it to $4.7 billion and increased funding for Medi-Cal to $2.6 billion, raising it 13% compared to 2017-2018 budget allocations. It has been said that “what gets funded, gets tracked”. I know that money alone won’t solve the need for equitable access to these vital services and having the proper funding is an on-going fight. However, seeing the numbers begin to align with our vision for California, is a key part to winning this fight and provides the financial backing we need to extend access to early education and Medi-Cal 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?

Placing a child in foster care – regardless of the reason and quality of care they recieve – is a life changing experience that is far too often traumatizing. For children of color and those from marginalized communities, the potential negative effects of this life alteration is only exasperated. This is why I support strengthening our welfare system to be able to provide culturally competent, effective, quality care and transitional services for the over 56,000 children it currently serves. Throughout my career I have advocated for and placed an emphasis on establishing protections for foster care children. This includes the passage of SB 13 which reduces unnecessary delays in making relatives foster parents and SB 612 which provides transitional housing to youth who age out of the foster care system. As Chair of the Senate Budget and Finance Committee, I have placed an emphasis on helping to pass a progressive budget that restores and/or increases funding to programs that protect foster care children. I will continue to support advocacy and policy efforts that provide much needed safekeeping for this vulnerable population.

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?

I support initiatives that increase awareness of the need for foster parents and provide substantial support with onboarding new caregivers and sustaining current ones. One major barrier for potential caregivers is navigating the process of becoming a foster parent/family. I have helped remove outdated bureaucratic policies that delayed the connection of children with foster parents. I will continue to encourage the expansion of initiatives that are doing great work in this effort with a focus on educating and supporting future caregivers.

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?  

The California Home Visiting Program (CHVP) implements two successful evidence based home visiting models (Healthy Families America and Nurse-Family Partnership) that have been able to show improvements for families participating in the program across six mandatory benchmarks: school readiness and achievement, improved maternal and newborn health, prevention of child injuries, economic self-sufficiency, coordination of referral to family resources and reduction in domestic violence and crime. This level of support is necessary and sets families on a positive trajectory for success. I support more families gaining access to the above mentioned programs and increased investments in state-funded child care programs to ensure all families have a fair chance at creating the nurturing and stable environments all children deserve and need.

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? 

All families with babies deserve the human development resources, life skills and peace of mind that quality child care provides. Due to child care being a necessity to establishing a safe and balanced family life and an indicator for the trajectory of a child’s future, it must be affordable and can’t not be a viewed as a privileged expense. I support expanding access to child care assistance and the current advancements being made in this effort that include: increasing the pay rates for child care providers, expanding parental leave rights for workers, and protecting the eligibility guidelines for subsidized child care to avoid parents losing access due to minimal income increases.

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?

Our educators and child care providers must be paid more to match the cost of living, to keep this industry competitive with top talent and most importantly, to honor the undeniable importance of this profession in shaping our children and society. Closing pay disparities for educators requires a multi-layered approach. I support prioritizing the state’s plan to transform the early childhood workforce to be competitive and sustainable by creating a standard permit and credential process, establishing clear career pathways, and providing ongoing resources for capacity building and training. The standardization of necessary skills and clear understanding of opportunities across the child care and early educator continuum; validate the need for an increased standard of pay that matches the high skill set and knowledge caregivers and educators must have.

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?

The Center for Civil Rights Remedies released a report this month stating that California students have missed 760,000 days of instruction due to suspensions. When you take a closer look at that number you see Black students alone are suspended more days than the statewide average, the difference is between 13 to 45 days. Addressing this issue is part of the preventative work that must be done to disrupt the prison pipeline that unjustly targets communities of color. The data shows that students of color face disproportionately high rates of expulsion than their white peers due to vague and faulty policies such as “willful defiance”. I voted for SB 607, a bill endorsed by the California Teachers Association that was presented by my colleague Senator Nancy Skinner. SB 607 extends the ban on willful defiance from grade school to high school. The broad definition of willful defiance allows for unconscious and deliberate biases that prevent students from learning. Pushing back against policies that do more harm than good and encouraging alternatives to suspensions that are aligned with data that proves keeping kids in school is the ultimate solution; are steps I support taking in this effort.

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?

Students can tell when they are genuinely supported on their academic journey and every child deserves the benefits of a qualified teacher who is enthusiastic about their future. Creating strong educational support systems requires a pipeline of teachers who represent the diverse communities they intend to serve. This will require more intentionality in outreaching to communities of color on the opportunities and benefits of the teaching profession, fighting for equitable staffing of high performing teachers in marginalized communities, working closely with teacher unions to address prevailing barriers that impact retention and ensuring resources are in place to support teachers in continuously elevating and evaluating their skill set.

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?   

6.3 million students in our state deserve more than a ratio of 8,091 students to 1 teacher librarian. Although the state requires school districts to provide library services, the laws are vague, and hiring a certified teacher librarian can count towards this mandate. To address this and the need for counselors, I support the legislature helping to define the minimum level and types of services that schools must provide and increasing funding to secure counselors who are a key part of a student’s development. In regards to class sizes in California, I agree that we must monitor the student to teacher ratio to ensure teachers have the bandwidth to support each student’s learning process. The state is hoovering under 30 students to one teacher. Although there isn’t a magic ratio that guarantees success for all students, we have proven the ability to reach lower ratios in the past thanks to budget incentives. I would support this with further examination of the effectiveness of class sizes in relation to student success.

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?

A growing majority of California students are dual language learners, this is an incredible skill for students to have that must be nurtured. I voted in favor of Prop 58 (passed) that repealed the harmful English only curriculum for English learners – an obstructive mandate from Prop 227 of 1998. In addition to promoting legislation that supports dual language learners – many of whom are from low income families – we must ensure there is a growing talent pool of dual language educators to meet this need. We know that speaking more than one language increases your overall lifetime earnings in the workforce and is a high demand skill in our hyper-connected, global economy. With this in mind, I support expanding dual language learning to all California students.

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 support the need for future focused curriculums that are aligned with fast growing fields in STEAM (Science, Technology, Education, Art and Math). The adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards sets the state on a promising course for formalizing and increasing comprehensive teachings in STEM. This type of instruction must be made available to every child as science continues to be a permanent part of our lives. For communities of color and low income families – access to quality STEM teachers and curriculums that are aligned with the careers of tomorrow can tilt the trajectory of their children’s lives. STEM makes new avenues out of economic hardship possible for children who are developing the science and mathematical skills that will serve them throughout their lives.

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?

The systematic barriers that make it seemingly impossible for students of color and/or from low income families to access higher education continue to hurt us a society. Addressing this challenge means creating tangible pathways that are responsive to the real life hardships students face on the road to higher education including – lack of affordable housing, limited access to transportation, income disparities, and much more. We must also promote transparency and interconnection within the University of California, California State and community college systems to better serve our students. I am proud to have worked with my colleagues in the legislature to pass a 2018-2019 state budget that increases funding for higher education. Community colleges alone will receive $725.3 million more in funding and be required to follow a new Student Focused Funding Formula to promote inclusivity within higher education – school funding will be determined 60% by enrollment, 20% by the number of low income students and 20% by the number of key metrics that show the academic progression and success of students – these efforts help incentivize and prioritize the development of a student body that is diverse in ethnicity and economic status. Our work in this effort is far from over but I am committed to working alongside educators and advocates to continue to expand access to higher education.

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?

Access to affordable healthcare is a human right. As a parent I am fully aware of the importance of having coordinated care to proactively identify and prevent serious medical issues and to support your child in developing positive wellness habits. I support increased outreach and transparency on who is and who is not able to access healthcare services to inform policy efforts that support the on-the-ground advocacy taking place. We must expand the provider network so that access to consistent high quality care is not based on your zip code but rather on the necessity for all children to have an equitable chance to thrive. This requires a collective effort that includes: recruiting more physicians to decrease the physician to patient ratio, increasing the CA provider reimbursements rates to be closer to the national average, and addressing language and cultural barriers that persistently make it harder for undocumented and low income communities to access care.

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?

The mental health of our children must be taken just as seriously as the mental health of adults. According to the 2018 Children’s Report Card, mental health challenges from anxiety to clinical disorders continues to be the number one reason children are hospitalized in California. There is a ringing of the alarm taking place and we must answer it with a coordinated and loving response. I agree with strengthening the connection between physical and mental health care providers to help increase transparency and to respond effectively to the needs of our children. We also must ensure that children who have Adverse Childhood Experiences have guaranteed access to the mental health services they need in order to address the trauma they are living with during their critical developmental years.

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?

Increasing access to dental care means meeting people where they are. For low income and communities of color and that have limited access to quality health care services – making dental screenings available in schools and community centers is a promising step. We can protect our children from the preventable effects of tooth decay that cause pain and decreased participation in schools. Oral hygiene is often viewed as a luxury concern for communities living in the margins, this is why I support advocacy efforts to raise awareness of the services and steps people can access for their children in their community to prevent long-term health issues.