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?

States with high educational attainment also have the strongest performing economies. I will make it my personal mission to put California in the top ten US states in education funding in my tenure in the Senate. I will advocate for changing the formula used to fund our schools from an average daily attendance formula to an enrollment formula to raise additional revenue for California schools. In the Senate, I will also propose creating a cradle-to-career system. California’s cradle-to-career system would consist of three pillars: 1) ensuring quality Pre-K-12, college education systems, and vocational training programs for all students, 2) establishing a Career Pathways System, and 3) increasing funding for child care programs for parents.

In addition to improving educational outcomes, research shows that health care coverage improves children’s health and has a significant impact in reducing disability, increasing educational achievement, and improving economic stability later in life. Approximately 1.3 million children, or 40% of children in California, are on Medi-Cal. However, many families find premiums to be unaffordable and a barrier to care. This impacts attendance at regular doctor visits, receipt of dental care services, access to immunizations, prescriptions, mental health services, and more. We must make access to health care services, particularly through Medi-Cal, easier for families. Expanding health care access includes, but is not limited to, reducing the costs of health care premiums and increasing Medi-Cal reimbursement rates. Additionally, California’s utilization rate for prevention services for children ranks at 40th for all states. Therefore, we must make investments to ensure that all California children are receiving the preventative services to which they are entitled.

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?

California must do better for abused children and foster youth. In California, we have a state-run and county-administered child welfare system. Each county organizes and operates its own program of child protection based on local needs while bringing together federal and state funding. Due to underfunding of our child welfare system, many positions in this critical safety net are left unfilled, leading to poor outcomes for child welfare-involved youth and families. We must appropriately finance the entire child welfare system. Additionally, we must build out supports for the entire spectrum of our child welfare system, from supporting resource families to increasing appropriate placements for foster youth who have complex care needs. In addition to improving funding for child welfare services, I would revisit the Continuum of Care Reform, which began in 2017 and sought to ensure that every child could be part of a family rather than growing up in a congregate care setting. While much progress has been made to achieve this outcome, significant challenges remain in fulfilling this commitment.

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?

 California should support new and expectant parents and young children through expanding paid family leave in two ways. First, workers should receive a 90-100% replacement rate for their weekly salary, as is done in certain other US states, rather than the current replacement rate of 60-70%. Second, the number of weeks of paid family leave workers receive should be increased. Though California was the first state to enact a paid family leave law, the 8 weeks of paid family leave provided in California is lower than the 12 weeks of paid family leave provided by nearly all the other states that have enacted paid family leave laws since then. Additionally, we should enhance investments in evidence-based home visits and related service providers to reach more families with 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?

I support universal preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds. I also acknowledge that without intervention by the state, implementing these initiatives will exacerbate staffing and revenue shortages among child care providers. We must preserve and expand the supply of quality, affordable child care for all Californians, including increasing wages and reimbursement rates for child care providers. Child care providers must receive enough revenue to stay afloat even when fluctuations in attendance and enrollment occur. California should base payment for child care providers on enrollment rather than attendance. The state should give providers a financial cushion that minimizes fluctuations in revenue even when parents move their children out of a particular child care service.

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 pandemic exacerbated shortages in California’s child care workforce—this issue must be addressed with urgency. No child care worker should be forced to take a second job to make ends meet. California should raise salaries and improve benefits for child care workers. California should raise the reimbursement ceilings for subsidized child care so that it reflects appropriate wages for child care providers to make a living. California should conduct a regional market rate analysis annually rather than every few years so that reimbursement rates are based on numbers generated from costs and expenditures from the previous year rather than from several years ago. California must also ensure that child care providers have access to affordable, high-quality health care so that it is a job that is competitive with other employment opportunities.

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?

School employees go and stay where they feel valued, respected, and sufficiently resourced to do their jobs. For too many school employees in California, this has not been the case. To address this shortage, California must ensure school employees receive competitive pay and benefits, have access to updated equipment and technology, and are provided with robust training and professional development opportunities. Additionally, California should provide grants to incentivize individuals to become school employees either as first or second careers, particularly in areas where staffing shortages are highest. As a school board member in the San Juan Unified School District, I worked throughout my tenure to reduce teacher- and counselor-to-student ratios, though there remains significant work to be done.

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?

In my time on the San Juan School Board, I have been at the forefront of efforts to close the achievement gap in our schools and hire more bilingual instructional assistants for our ELL students. Additionally, I worked with Assemblymember Kevin McCarty to establish the CalNEW program, which provides funding to school districts statewide which have  a significant number of eligible students who are newcomers to California. This funding is used to improve their well-being, English-language proficiency, and academic performance. The program supports refugees, asylees, Cuban and Haitian entrants, victims of severe forms of trafficking, children classified as Special Immigrant Juveniles, and unaccompanied undocumented minors. In the State Senate, I will work to scale up programs such as CalNEW to ensure effective implementation and adequate funding in every school district.

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 first-generation college student and a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, I personally benefited from a publicly funded higher education. I am a strong champion of publicly funded higher education. As a state senator, I will fight to make higher education more accessible. California must return to the promise of the Master Plan for Higher Education and renew our commitment to the underlying principle that some form of higher education ought to be available to all, regardless of their economic means. Accordingly, we must fully fund our higher education system, including our community college system.

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?  

To improve California’s Medi-Cal program, our state should raise reimbursement rates for providers. Currently, California ranks 40th in the US in Medi-Cal reimbursement rates. Increasing reimbursement rates will incentivize more providers to opt-in to providing Medi-Cal services and improve the quality of the care they can provide to children. California should also collect more comprehensive demographic data on its Medi-Cal program. By developing a fuller understanding of racial and demographic disparities in the Medi-Cal program, our state can know where we need to take action to improve health outcomes for all Californians regardless of what they look like or what zip code they come from.

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?

Mental health for children and young people was in a state of crisis before the COVID pandemic, and the situation has worsened since. While this crisis impacts all children, we know that Black youth face a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and stress. California suffers from a severe shortage of every type of service meant to serve youth, including crisis drop-in centers, pediatric emergency beds and placements, and other service providers for youth. Young people experiencing mental health issues should have access to phone, video, peer-to-peer, and if needed, in-person services on a confidential basis and free of charge. We must invest in expanding California’s mental health services providers workforce and in acute care services for youth experiencing MDE.