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?
The enormous amount we spend on law enforcement and corrections speaks to our deeply entrenched school-to-prison pipeline, which negatively impacts far too many California children – especially minority and low-income children. I believe we need to change these fiscal priorities and significantly increase state spending on our youth programs to ensure equitable opportunity is provided to all California children. As State Senator, I will fight for a substantial increase in expenditures for kids’ programs that make a tangible, positive impact on their life conditions and trajectory.
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 believe our child welfare system is severely undeserving Californian children and not providing them with pathways to success and self-determination. We know Black children are disproportionately being removed from their homes and also being under-serviced by the County and state level foster care systems. We are also charging parents that have children enrolled in the welfare system, increasing the impact of compounded poverty on their lives and making it harder and often impossible for them to thrive economically. I will look to strengthen the child welfare system by examining the removal rates of Black and Brown children, the incarceration rates of children under the child welfare system, and their university and job placement rates. I will work alongside child advocates to determine which programs need additional funding from the state to ensure we are better protecting and serving children in the child welfare system and addressing racial bias in the 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 believe we need to expand the existing programs to reach more than 2% of families with young children. We also need to better track the success rates of children that come from families with access to affordable childcare versus those who do not. We should be surveying young parents to determine exactly what their needs are for parental support, and to ensure that we have programs to meet each one of those needs. Where there is no program to address a parental need, a new program should be created to ensure parents have the resources they need to support young children.
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?
California must create specific benchmarks and an aggressive strategic plan to increase the percentage of families that receive subsidized child care. Childcare is critical to saving and expanding the California economy and providing a pathway to success for our children. Workers must have access to affordable childcare to remain in the workforce, and children must have access to quality childcare for their safety, health, and educational success. I will support legislation that increases the percentage of families enrolled in subsidized child care from 14% to 20% in the next 5 years. We must determine where the gaps are in service provision across the state to understand why so few families are benefitting and how we get more of them enrolled into the system.
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?
As a labor candidate, I feel very strongly about the salaries of our childcare providers. First, we must ensure we continue to allow childcare providers to collectively bargain and get as many of them into unions as possible. In order to attract high-quality providers and improve the childcare industry, we must protect the quality of these jobs and increase the pay scale. Childcare providers should receive equitable and prevailing wages, as they perform some of the most essential jobs of our society. We should aim to have the average salaries of childcare employees match that of California public employees. As State Senator, I will be very vocal in my support of increasing the wages of childcare workers.
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?
Those rankings are unacceptable, and we must be wholly committed to improving them. I support making bold investments in the education workforce. I support increasing the number of teachers, nurses, and counselors in all California schools. I also believe these must be good union jobs we are creating. We must make a job in education a quality and attractive job that focuses on retention and worker satisfaction. We have to make strong investments in the workers that are caring for and educating our children daily.
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?
We must expand the number of public bilingual/multilingual schools in the state. We must also expand the licensing and programming opportunities available to teachers to ensure more teachers are certified to teach these programs. We must provide an opportunity for all students to be educated and proficient in both English and a language other than English and ensure we have the workforce needed to make it a reality. Bilingual/multilingual public schools should be available for all California students.
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?
As a researcher and educator at UCLA, I am very committed to increasing state spending on higher education. We know that higher education provides a pathway to self-determination and the opportunity for stable employment. I am particularly interested in increasing allocations to public universities and community colleges. We need to make tuition free or affordable for all California students. We also need to ensure our students are receiving housing support and extra-curricular services that enhance the college experience.
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?
I am a strong supporter of universal healthcare, and I believe adopting a universal system will be a step forward in solving a lot of these issues. In the interim, I will support enhancing the Medi-Cal system by expanding the number of covered services that fall outside primary care. I will also support expenditures that increase medical care available to students in public schools, as we know the school environment is often the easiest way to assess medical needs for children.
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?
The first step in addressing the mental health crisis among Black children is to significantly increase the mental health professionals present on K-12 campuses. We must make mental health treatment available in schools, as we know many children lack the support from their family to seek mental health treatment and, additionally, many families simply cannot afford it. We can easily address this by ensuring all students have consistent and free access to a school counselor and a psychiatrist when needed. We must prioritize these services in schools with high Black student populations. We should expand and normalize the curriculum around mental health and suicide prevention in health classes to ensure our students are equipped to address suicidal thoughts by seeking support from the appropriate people.