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?
I believe that support for our children is always a worthwhile investment and have dedicated many years as a public servant on this issue. As the former Chair of the Assembly Committee of Health and Human Services, I have fought for the most vulnerable in our society by ensuring efficient services are being brought to child welfare, foster care, in-home support services, and the CalWORKs and CalFresh programs.
This year, my colleagues and I made education and services for children our top priorities and fully funded the Local Control Funding Formula, approved additional funding for childcare and early education and increased CalWORKs grants so that children living in poverty are supported. I also passed legislation this year that will:
-Improve school bus safety;
-Create a pathway to cut utility costs for schools so more money could go directly to student services;
-Ensure that parents and youth have information about existing mental health support in and outside of schools; and
-Remove existing financial penalties on CalWORKs families.
Even with continuing efforts from the legislature and current state administration, I agree that California is still behind in education funding and services for children and will continue to find opportunities for improvements. I am committed to continue with my efforts in finding alternative ways for schools to conserve resources, find additional funding, and provide children with early prevention and intervention services that would make a big impact in their lives.
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?
As a member of the California Child Welfare Council, my goal is to improve services for children that need them most. While our state has made improvements through the passage of AB 403, and the implementation of Continuum of Care Reform, there is still more to be done to make this goal a reality. We need to do more to ensure our children involved in the child welfare system have the support they need to succeed through mental health support and wrap around services. This care needs to be consistent to help children who are having their lives uprooted and are adjusting to new environments, attain important stability.
This year, the Governor signed my bill AB 2022, which directs schools to provide students and parents with information about how to access available mental health services. I also advocated for annual funding in the budget to have mental health professionals in every K-12 schools in California. While this year we did not get the funding, I am committed to this goal because I believe school is the best place to give kids the support they need for their mental wellness and futures. By bringing services to the kids we will break down the many barriers to access children face and destigmatize asking for help. In providing these services, we need to do more to ensure these services are culturally appropriate and provide the necessary support for children of different sexual orientations and gender identities. This year I supported, and the Governor signed AB 2119 (Gloria) that will guarantee transgender foster youth the gender affirming services and important support they need. This is a critical step, but there is still more we can do to make sure our kids feel safe, loved and supported. I am committed to this work.
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?
California shares the same epidemic as other states in shortage of foster parents due to increasing number of foster youths. This problem leaves many children without loving homes and I am a firm believer in early intervention to prevent future issues. The foster system needs to ensure that both future and current foster parents are supported. For most people who are considering fostering youth, the process could be a daunting task. The state should ensure that those parents are receiving consistent support in order to make the process a more rewarding experience. Those signed up to be foster parents want to make a difference in the lives of children that they help. But they cannot do that alone. Services such as counseling, training and consultation for those parents need to be readily accessible.
Additionally, the state needs to do more in order to keep children out of the system. According to a recent study by the Foster Care Institute, many children that end up in the foster system have parents with substance use disorders. I believe that the state should provide assistance to those parents so their children would not have to go through the pain of being separated from their families in the first place.
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?
I have long believed that providing families with support for their children is the right thing to do, and the earlier in life, the better. The science shows that evidence-based home visiting provides an overwhelming return on this investment potentially $5 for every dollar invested. Home visit services provide critical support that foster the child’s health, emotional development and school readiness, and prevent abuse and neglect. While providing these services, we must recruit and train professionals that can reflect the diversity of California and provide both culturally and linguistically appropriate services for families and children. We must also make sure that there is consistency in the professional providing the care in order to build trust and ensure effectiveness.
To provide support for expecting parents and their young infants, we must make sure that we can provide jobs in our state with living wages and affordable childcare. This year, my colleagues and I provided 13,400 new childcare spots statewide. This is an important step, but there is more to be done. We know that providing affordable childcare helps lift families out of poverty and improve gender equity in our state, which is why I am committed to improving affordability of childcare and fair wages for workers. Families across the state face rising costs of living, leaving less money in their pockets to pay for childcare – creating barriers to entering the workforce and supporting their families. Families are also facing rising costs of healthcare, and difficulties to navigating the systems. We need to reduce costs and improve access to both physical and mental health care for parents to help them support their young children.
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?
I think that the state should ensure that services reach those who need them most and since California is so diverse, breaking down the language barriers will increase access. This year, I authored a bill to improve language access for Medi-Cal recipients to ensure that materials are readable and culturally appropriate. Unfortunately, it was recently vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown. I firmly believe that if we do a better job in ensuring that people understand the types of services that are available to them, there will be an increase in registration to publicly-supported programs. I will continue to work on this issue and believe that it would increase the number of people receiving services.
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?
I believe that fair wages for all working professionals are important, especially teachers, because of their important role in education our children. Ultimately, it is all about available funding and I am committed to finding opportunities to increase funding to ensure that all children receive the services they need and that those providing services are making livable wages.
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?
I believe that instead of keeping children away from schools, we need to provide those children with more support to keep them out of trouble. Along with this belief, I supported legislation to cut down suspensions and expulsions rates that went through the legislature this year.
I am also a strong advocate for early mental health prevention and intervention and have been working to put adequate number of mental health professionals in public schools, at least one per school.
According to a study by the UCLA Center for Policy Research, over 300,000 children ages from 4 to 11 have mental health needs. Among those children, 88.6 percent of those not receiving necessary services are from families with parents who speak English as a second language. This is unacceptable and one of my priorities next year is to provide funding for schools to employ mental health professionals on campus. Studies show that access to early mental health support reduces expulsion and suspension rates, absenteeism, tardiness, poor behavior, and involvement with the criminal justice system.
Additionally, since there is still social stigmas among different cultures related to mental illness, it is also important for mental health services to be culturally diverse to better help all children regardless of their cultural background, beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, or disabilities.
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?
As a former Berryessa school board member, I understand the challenges of hiring and retaining good teachers. I believe that in order to attract young professionals and keep the current quality teachers, fair compensation, effective training and support, and procedures and practices to make teachers feel valued and heard need to be in place.
As an Assemblymember representing a high cost of living district, being a teacher might not pay the bills and many teachers in my area continue to struggle. Therefore, I continue to support additional funding for schools, expansion of grant programs to incentivize and encourage those thinking of entering the profession and programs to support teachers such as affordable housing.
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?
Time and time again, we see that California at the bottom of pack for spending on our students’ education and support services. Living in the 5th largest economy in the world, we should spend more on the next generation. All these school professionals are critical to our kids’ education and futures.
This past year, I focused on the role our schools play in providing mental health services and information about career and college planning. Right now, our counselors are stretched incredibly thin, tasked with coordinating classes for students, helping with college guidance and providing mental health support. National data shows that counselors spend the majority of their time on academic advising, leaving not enough time to provide emotional support for our students. When the counselor may be the only person a child can go to, waiting weeks for an appointment can cause their problems to escalate, or for children to not reach services at all. This year, I worked with Mental Health America of California, the California Youth Empowerment Network and the Steinberg Institute on a bill to increase our mental health professional ratio to the recommended 600 students to one professional. Unfortunately, this effort was stopped short this year, but I am committed to working on this priority next year.
Increasing this ratio would mean more counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers available on campus for our kids. With more counselors for mental health purposes, counselors will have more time to both provide academic and mental health support, which is increasingly important for helping youth navigate their next steps after high school.
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 am a strong advocate for dual immersion programs and believe that these programs support and encourage multilingual potential for many students, increase interests in other cultures, and promotes inclusivity. Young professionals who speak more than one languages are more marketable in the workforce. My district has successful programs including Spanish and Mandarin with plans for more languages. I am currently exploring ways to support school districts that are interested in establishing dual language immersion programs to expand and promote the benefits of these programs.
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?
As an engineer myself, I think it’s incredibly important for our schools to provide early opportunities for kids to learn entry STEM courses.
As Chair of the Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media, I am a strong believer that arts should be included in STEM, as STEAM, because art classes help youth develop creative thinking critical for STEM professions.
In our state, we are having trouble recruiting enough teachers in these fields. I support grants and programs to attract teachers, and believe we need more programs to attract a more culturally diverse educational workforce. We also importantly need to attract more women to teach STEAM and to recruit for STEAM professions. As more girls see people who look like them in these professions, we will tackle the gaping gender disparity in STEAM.
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 believe that funding for education is a great investment for the state and taxpayers, therefore, have been supportive of efforts to increase funding. My colleagues and I pushed for more than $274 million for higher education this year to support increased enrollment rate. This will result to many more Californians having access to the state’s higher education system.
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?
As an immigrant and someone who understands the language barrier that still exists, I believe that one of the ways to increase access is to ensure that materials given to those qualified for Medi-Cal are readable and culturally appropriate. I worked on a bill this year to address this issue but it was recently vetoed by the Governor. Without understanding services that are available, it would be hard for program participants to request or seek them out. Increasing language access is not the only piece of the puzzle but I believe it would make a positive impact to increasing program participation and access to health services.
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?
It is very troubling that there are available mental health resources that are not being utilized. Our children are facing a mental health crisis. I believe schools provide the optimal place to connect children with mental health services. Some schools in California are utilizing EPSDT funds by coordinating with county mental health agencies, and have had success by dedicating administrative resources to applying for reimbursement, and other available funding resources like the Local Educational Agency Medi-Cal Billing Option, Mental Health Services Act Prevention and Early Intervention funds, and School-based Medi-Cal Administrative Activities Program. Part of the problem is that most schools do not have the administrative resources to navigate and utilize these funding sources. Another part is that not all schools and county health agencies are coordinating effectively to deploy these available funds. I believe that the State should find ways to help LEAs coordinate with county agencies to utilize existing resources, invest in school-based mental health professionals, and invest more state resources in mental health prevention and early intervention resources. This investment is critical to our children’s well-being and California’s future.
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?
I believe that all children should have access to health services and it is a shame that many are going without. There are many barriers to receiving health services such as lack of transportation, insufficient health care coverage, lack of health services facilities nearby, not enough time off for doctor’s visits, and inadequate education on healthcare needs. Many studies link poverty to poor health outcomes and I believe that making services more accessible, ensuring that there is adequate funding and proactive education would improve outcomes for many families. For instance, while working on a bill to increase childhood vaccination for families receiving CalWORKs, every piece of research that I came across indicated that most families living in poverty does not choose to not vaccinate their kids, it is because of the barriers mentioned above that prevent them from getting care for their children.