Limp Response on Child Care

A task force appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian finds that California needs more child-care facilities. It finds that taxpayers are willing to pay for them. It also finds itself at a loss to say what to do about the findings. It once more leaves it to the Legislature to act on the need, hoping to find the governor in a mood to sign a bill.

Deukmejian appointed the panel a year ago after he vetoed legislation that would have initiated state support for thousands of youngsters who might otherwise be unsupervised before and after school. The governor said that the state didn’t know enough about child-care needs, existing programs and parental attitudes. That wasn’t quite true. What is true is that, with the panel report, the state knows exactly what it did a year ago.

For example, the task force raised questions about estimates that 620,000 or more “latchkey” children need care, but it produced no estimate of its own. The Senate’s Office of Research says that the figure is based on “widely accepted national estimates.” A recent study by UCLA Prof. Karen Hill Scott concluded that facilities are needed for 268,000 school-age children in the Los Angeles area alone; this area has about one-third of the state’s population.

The task force learned from a Gallup poll that 61% of California parents “feel the state should be involved in providing child-care services and funding, even at the cost of additional taxes or a shift in funds now being spent for other purposes.” A majority of those polled felt that “even at the price of increased taxes” new programs should be started for handicapped children, for the needy and for school-age children.

In the face of these findings the task-force proposals are limp and vague. It called for a child-care fund to help local communities plan theirservices, but named no dollar amount. It said that local communities are best equipped to handle latchkey children, and encouraged “use of neighborhood block parents so that school-age children can check in with an adult after school,” with no way of knowing who might be home on which block. It did not dwell on special care for handicapped or chronically ill children. And it promoted expansion of a voucher-payment program for low-income parents. Such vouchers can be used for day-care services that include no educational programs, and thus cost less than day-care services that get direct state subsidies.


If the governor is content to gloss over the serious problem of child care, the Legislature is not. With bipartisan support, the state Senate has passed a $50-million measure to start providing services for latchkey children. The money would help develop programs for 30,000 to 50,000 children--a small number of those who need the care--and would enable school districts to bring buildings up to code standards or to erect temporary child-care centers. The state would provide half the money; local groups would raise the rest.

But even this modest measure may fail unless the Republicans in the Legislature who have demonstrated that they understand the state’s child-care needs can persuade the governor to go along with their efforts. They would be greatly helped in their task if the business community, which benefits from child-care arrangements that leave employees free to concentrate on the job, gets more deeply involved both in providing such care and in explaining its needs to the governor. It was the business community that helped pass education reforms two years ago; now it’s child care’s turn.