On Friday morning legislators, parents, advocates and educators gathered together for the 30th annual Policymakers Breakfast hosted by Options to hear from officials about the legislation affecting early childhood development programs.
â€œCollectively, we are all policy makers gathered here today. All of us advocate by writing letters, making phone calls and getting our situation known, but today we are hearing from the people in appointed positions who make the policy,â€ master of ceremonies Dolores Meade said to start off the morning.
Councilmember Victor Gordo, Supervisor Michael Antonovich, Assemblymember Ed Chau, and Assemblymember Chris Holden provided a picture of the state of affairs for Los Angeles Countyâ€™s subsidized early learning and child development services for low-income families. In honor of each of them speaking about this important issue and inviting anyone to speak to them about ideas for new bills, a childrenâ€™s book will be placed in the library by Options.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter how many merits you receive or how much money you have in the bank account when you die, but if you help one child youâ€™ll leave a legacy,â€ Supervisor Michael Antonovich said.
Key Note Speaker Kim Patillo Brownson, Director of Educational Equity at the Advancement Project spoke about the â€œSave My Seatâ€ Project, a project of the Los Angeles Childrenâ€™s Data Network advocating on behalf of low income families in need of early learning subsidies and spaces.
The crucial issue is that parents are losing services due to all the budget cuts and alternative priorities at the state level. Early childhood legislation has had successive cuts for four years resulting in a loss of 110,000 seats in preschools. The May revise of the state budget is coming up in two weeks and the Save My Seat website has predictions of what would happen if additional cuts were added to the budget. If ten percent of the funding is cut, an additional 58% of the seats would be lost because so many services would be pushed over the line of operation. Currently the city of Pasadena is facing a $8.5 million cut for education.
â€œRecently school board and city council adopted a three-year work plan that attempts to align resources and programs to ensure that the gaps that exist within our community are best addressed especially in light of all the state and federal take-aways,â€ Mercy Santoro, Director for Human Services and Recreation for the City of Pasadena said.
â€œWhatâ€™s particularly important in Pasadena is a greater focus on early childhood and after school programs and making sure that thereâ€™s an emphasis in re-investing in our early childhood programs to really focus on narrowing the achievement gap. Many of our elementary schools in the northwest have test scores of children initially coming into kindergarten not ready,â€ Santoro continued.
Christina Saucedo is a parent who this directly impacts and has been given her life back by the services Options offers for her children. She battled substance abuse addiction for 19 years and had to go through a behavior modification program when she was released from prison.
â€œUpon graduating I realized that I had a purpose and that was to give back and work with other women just like me to become productive members of society. Options has my back through all this. Iâ€™m gonna make it. Iâ€™ve come this far and I could not have made it without Options. I want to thank all of you and tell you these services, they help a lot,â€ Christina said, who was the only speaker to receive a standing ovation.
Options also recognized exceptional individuals contributing to early education and development. Former Assemblymember Anthony Portantino was awarded the Marge Wyatt Advocacy Award. Portantino received this prestigious award based on his high level of commitment to children and families and his support of high quality early learning and child development while he served in office.
Woodworkers of Whittier, or W.O.W. as they refer to themselves, received the community award for the excellent work they do carving 4,000+ wooden toys to give away at Christmas every year. They have a team of about 40 woodworkers who gather donated or scrap material from constructions sites and use it to make a childâ€™s Christmas extra special by donating the toys to disadvantaged kids through 30 different social work agencies.
â€œWhat we give is joy and we work hard at it,â€ President of W.O.W. John Rodgers said when he accepted the artwork done in their honor.
State Senator Carol Lui is currently working a bill that will re-label childcare services as early learning and educational support system.
â€œItâ€™s important whether itâ€™s at the Sacramento policymaker level or the community level and even staff working in our programs that we label the program properly and keep people focused on why we are here. We are not here to babysit children we are here for their learning and their development for their optimization of where theyâ€™re going in the future,â€ Options Chief Executive Officer Cliff Marcussen
Everyone in the room felt inspired to leave the meetings and take action. The simplest thing that parents can do is to write to their legislators or call to the local office in their communities and share that quality educational child development programs are critical for my family and our community and we want to make sure that you are supporting resources for those programs. Marcussen says that parents are often more effective than advocates or anyone else because the legislators want to hear from people directly affected.
â€œIts not enough simply to support what is good you must also oppose that which is bad. I know you are champions for children. I know you will continue to fight for whatâ€™s good and whatâ€™s right for our children and families and communities,â€ Marcussen said.
For more information, please see http://optionscc.org/.