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 48th out of 50 in state funding for education! For a state that leads the nation in scientific and commercial innovation, we are among the last in core area academic performance across the board.  As the founder and principal petitioner of multiple charter schools designed to provide high quality education to underserved children, and as the regional director of several high-performing public schools serving primarily our Latino(a) and African American communities, I have dedicated my life to improving our educational system and working for our children.  I am intimately familiar with the needs and shortcomings of our education system, particularly as it affects our young low-income Californians.  The achievement and opportunity gap is real, and pervasive.  For true sustainable changes, we absolutely must start with our youngest Californians. I support universal preschool – not just universal childcare – but the implementation of actual transitional kindergarten education programs, with verifiable standards, for our four-year olds.  Studies have universally shown that early childhood education is key to later academic performance.  From my experience as an educator, if a child is behind by third grade, it is nearly impossible for that child to catch up.  We also need to maintain high standards across all core educational areas for all grade levels.  Our state needs to truly prioritize education, while maintaining accountability standards for our teachers and all our students. My thoughts in prioritizing spending are that our priorities are misplaced, and that our children’s education and physical and mental health must always be of the highest priority.

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 served in the following elected and/or appointed positions:

  • Commissioner, Advisory Commission on Special Education – California Department of Education (current)
  • Chair Pro Tem, ChartHouse Public Schools Board of Education (current)
  • Vice Chair, Amador County Democrats Central Committee (current)
  • Commissioner, Healthcare Integration Advisory Board, County of Los Angeles, 2016
  • Board Member, Leadership Institute for Just and Resilient Communities, 2015
  • Board Member, Sonoma County Mental Health Board, 5th District, 2014
  • Steering Committee, Healthy Kids Sonoma County Children’s Health Initiative, 2010-15
  • Executive Board Treasurer, California Human Development Corporation, 2009-14
  • Commissioner, County of Sonoma, Maternal Child & Adolescent Health Advisory Board, 2010-12
  • Founder, 1 of 100 “Los Cien” of Sonoma County, 2010-2014
  • Member/Fundraiser, Latino Service Providers, 2004-2014

As you may notice by this list, bringing educational, medical and mental health services to children has been a life-long constant in my professional and public service career.  I should also mention that I, myself, am a product of the foster care system – having been fostered as a child. It is not something that I advertise for political gain, but it is an integral part of who I am and a reason why I am so steadfast in my commitment to children.  Returning to the question at hand, there are many things we can do to strengthen the child welfare system, some can be implemented globally and some on a case-by-case basis.  It starts by providing in-home services to children, and when possible to the families.  These can include age-specific parenting support, including teen or adult parent training to help with complex parent child interactions; comprehensive substance use treatment to enhance coping and encourage behaviors that replace substance use; concrete assistance, such as food, clothing, furniture, or housing.  But the main priority should always be the children, including addressing children’s individual behavioral issues and physical and mental health challenges. Specialized behavioral health supports and services should be available to children and their caregivers throughout the placement process, including wraparound services, in-home and community-based therapy, and psychiatric support when needed.

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?

This tracks with my answer above, as to the critical needs for in-home services and resources – for which I support funding increases.   Schools can also meet a strategic need in making these resources and services available to the bulk of our public school children.  It is precisely for this reason that I implemented home visits and the sharing of support and resources as part of the mission of the schools I managed.  I support additional resources to public schools to serve as a bridge between the services available and those who need them the most.

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?

As stated above, child care is critical but not just child care in of itself, but child care with a purpose – with an educational component attached to it.  It is for this reason that I support universal transitional educational services to children as young as three years old, and certainly for four-year-olds.

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?   

The income disparity affects not only those providing child care, but it is pervasive across multiple service providers.  I support full labor rights for all workers, including farmworkers, undocumented workers, service providers, etc.: All workers, regardless of status, must receive equal rights and protections under the law, and be entitled to equal compensation and salary that is reflective of their hard work.  For that reason, I support legislation that will invest in our children in all facets, including child care, education, health, mental health, etc

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?

As indicated, I have spent my entire career seeking to close the educational and achievement gap for our communities in need.  I wholeheartedly believe that education is the universal key to overcome poverty.  But it needs to be adequately funded – our schools need to have the resources and mandates to fully staff to meet our children’s needs.  As a State Senator, this will be the centerpiece of my proposals.

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 the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and am a dual language educator.  The bulk of ‘my children’ – those who attend the public schools I helped found and manage, are English learners with Spanish speaking families – las madres y padres de nuestros barrios.  Funding for English learners should be a priority.  There is also an untapped source of future teachers who have added skills to teach English learners – those who were English learners themselves.  For that reason, I support additional funding for all of our educational system, as well as additional advance education opportunities, recruiting and retention within our under-served communities for specially qualified teachers.

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?

Please see above, my service history and if you ever get the chance, please visit the public schools I helped open and operate.  In other words, I fully support it!

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?  

Before transitioning into public education, I worked with various nonprofits, and oversaw school-based medical, dental and nursing services for underserved communities.  Several of those community programs are still in operation.  In addition to continuing to work towards opening and funding such health centers, I intend to support legislation to properly fund, maintain and support centers that provide these services to all communities, but in particular to our underserved communities.

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?

Again, schools can serve as a bridge to target these services to children in need.  It is difficult to identify those suffering from depression or mental health issues without having daily interaction, but school personnel do have these interactions.  Additional training and funding is necessary for counselors, nurses and therapists to be available to educational institutions to identify and address mental health issues among our student population across all grade levels.