District’s early education programs in jeopardy

Molly Shore

Sandra Espinel’s 7-year-old twin sons are enrolled in the

state-subsidized early education program at Emerson Elementary

School. Espinel, a single working parent, pays a sliding scale fee of


$26.25 a week for her boys to be in the program.

If she had to pay for private child care, Espinel said she would

not have enough money for rent, and might have to give up her job and

go on welfare.


But with the state drowning in a deficit of billions of dollars,

Gov. Gray Davis has proposed that the program be turned over to

counties, removing the guarantee of state funding. If the Legislature

accepts Davis’ plan, the Burbank Unified School District’s early

education centers, as well as other similar programs throughout the

state, could be substantially reduced or eliminated when funds are

exhausted in June.

If the county administers the program, the money might come from


block grants, which would lead to the district having to compete

against other groups -- like senior programs -- for the funds, said

Goldie Bemel, the district’s director of child development programs.

“Close to half a million parents will be without child care

[statewide],” Bemel said. “What are those parents going to do?”

The children’s centers at Emerson, Washington and Bret Harte

elementary schools are paid for out of the state’s fund for general

child-care programs. These three centers also include preschool


classes, which are also paid for by the same fund. The district also

has state-subsidized before- and after-school programs at every

elementary school, except Emerson.

Only two preschool classes at Edison and one at Bret Harte

Elementary School are exempt from the governor’s proposed cuts,

because state funding designates these preschool programs as

educational, while the others are considered just child care, Bemel


About 600 children are enrolled in the local programs, and the

district receives $3 million in state money to operate them, Bemel


Eva Contis, a single mother who teaches in the Los Angeles Unified

School District, has a 4-year-old son in Emerson’s preschool.

“I’m a school teacher, so I know how important it is for children

to be ready for school,” she said.

Her son recognizes words and letters, which Contis said is


“To take this away from lower-income families is a crime,” she

said. “Preschool shouldn’t be a luxury; it should be something

everyone has access to.”