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key takeaway

Despite California’s efforts to expand preschool access, many children, particularly those from families with low incomes and children of color, are missing out on these crucial early learning opportunities. The complex early learning system makes it difficult for families to navigate and enroll their children.

Children and their families deserve early education opportunities that promote whole-child development and support overall family well-being. Preschool programs are an essential component in providing these experiences for 3- and 4-year-old children. While California has made significant strides in expanding access to preschool, thousands of preschool-age children still lack access to the state’s early learning programs. This is especially true for many children of color and children from families with low incomes who do not participate in any early learning program, whether it is in a preschool setting or in any other setting within California’s early learning system.

The early learning system is complex, and families are expected to navigate this system and make decisions on early learning options available in their communities. This report shares findings on the number of children served in the California State Preschool Program (CSPP) in the context of the mixed delivery system and equitable access to early learning.

What is the California State Preschool Program?

CSPP serves 3- and 4-year-old children from income-eligible families — children are eligible if their family’s income level is at or below 100% of State Median Income ($84,818 for a family of 2). The program offers part-day and full-day preschool to families who meet certain eligibility requirements — in addition to income, families must meet other requirements to access full-day preschool.1A 3- or 4-year-old child is eligible for full-day preschool if their family meets one additional requirement under the category “needs childcare.” This category includes whether the child is identified as being in danger of harm or neglect, or if the parent is in vocational training, is enrolled in an English language learner educational program, is employed or looking for employment, is seeking housing, or is incapacitated. California Education Code, title 1, sec. 8208 (d)(1). The California Department of Education (CDE) administers CSPP, including allocating funding to contractors.

At the local level, schools and colleges, nonprofits, and local governments offer the program. CSPP is part of California’s publicly funded mixed-delivery system that serves the early learning and child care needs of California families through several programs. In 2022, the entire system, including federally funded programs, served approximately 309,000 3- and 4-year-old children — most of these children are from families with low incomes.2Total enrollment is likely overestimated because families may participate in more than one program, and available data do not provide unduplicated numbers.

How many children have enrolled in CSPP over the years?

As shown in the chart below, enrollment for 3- and 4-year-old children in CSPP has not fully recovered after sharp declines in 2020. Since then, enrollment has steadily increased but still lags behind pre-pandemic numbers. From 2019 to 2022, the program served around 41,000 fewer 3- and 4-year-old children. This trend was particularly pronounced for 4-year-old children. After slightly recovering in 2021, the number of 4-year-olds in CSPP started to dip again while enrollment for 3-year-olds continued to increase — from 2021 to 2022, 4-year-old children in part-day programs experienced the largest drop. 

How many children could potentially be served by CSPP?

Data show a clear gap between the number of children eligible for CSPP and current enrollment levels. In 2022, the program enrolled only 17% of all 3- and 4-year-old children from income-eligible families. Specifically, more than 560,000 children were eligible for CSPP in 2022, but the program served only about 96,000 children. Of the number eligible, 469,000 (84%) were children of color. This gap is partially addressed by other preschool and child care programs serving 3- and 4-year-old children from low-income families. However, even after accounting for other programs, many children still do not benefit from any form of publicly funded early learning services.

What is the demand for CSPP?

Despite the gap in access to CSPP, the total number of available slots significantly exceeds demand. In fiscal year 2022-23, CSPP funding could have served about 211,000 children, but total program enrollment was less than half of the total capacity (100,080 children). The state has made investments to expand the program, such as increasing income eligibility thresholds, but demand is still significantly lower than it was prior to 2020. This means that dollars intended to provide access to preschool are not reaching those families who technically have a spot available to them.

Why might CSPP supply outpace demand?

While there is not enough information to fully understand why enrollment lags behind available spaces, some reports point to potential reasons such as:

  • workforce challenges that limit providers’ ability to staff classrooms;
  • the long-lasting impacts of the pandemic; 
  • 4-year-old children moving to Transitional Kindergarten (TK);
  • programs may not meet families’ needs (e.g., inconvenient hours or location); and
  • families facing access challenges, such as not having enough information about the program.

More research is needed to understand these challenges and target solutions, especially related to how families navigate the system and the factors that guide their decisions.

Implications

The findings presented in this report highlight key implications for policymakers, state agencies, and other early learning advocates. The trends in CSPP amplify continued efforts to expand access for families with the most need. Overall, failure to engage families to enroll in state preschool exacerbates ongoing disparities at the intersection of race and income. Additional implications include:

What can state leaders do to better support families with preschool-age children?

Strengthening CSPP requires policy changes and investments at the program and system level. The 2023-24 enacted budget included significant investments that will strengthen CSPP and other programs in the mixed delivery system, such as provider rate supplements and family fee reform.

State leaders can further strengthen CSPP by implementing changes that center families and enacting needed reforms to support the early learning workforce. Those include:

Increasing participation in preschool is crucial to promoting whole-child development and addressing deep inequities in outcomes later in a child’s life. California is making progress in creating a more robust mixed delivery system that works for families. However, there is still much more to be done to ensure children benefit from these investments. As state leaders consider changes to state preschool and the mixed delivery system, policy developments should be informed by those most impacted, namely, providers and caregivers.

  • 1
    A 3- or 4-year-old child is eligible for full-day preschool if their family meets one additional requirement under the category “needs childcare.” This category includes whether the child is identified as being in danger of harm or neglect, or if the parent is in vocational training, is enrolled in an English language learner educational program, is employed or looking for employment, is seeking housing, or is incapacitated. California Education Code, title 1, sec. 8208 (d)(1).
  • 2
    Total enrollment is likely overestimated because families may participate in more than one program, and available data do not provide unduplicated numbers.
  • 3
    Unused dollars could also be the result of overappropriations for a policy change.
  • 4
    Early Education Division – Opportunities for All Branch, UPK Mixed Delivery Quality and Access Report (February 9, 2024), 36, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KJjCKg4RwLU7kRVcTwhao3oxbSVfc5Px/view.

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key takeaway

California has a significant unmet need for affordable child care, with only a fraction of eligible children receiving subsidized care. The state needs to make significant and sustainable investments in expanding subsidized child care options, particularly for infants and toddlers.

Affordable child care is critical for supporting California’s families to grow and thrive. Within California’s mixed delivery system, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) provides child care programs at low- to no-cost for families with low incomes. For far too long, the demand for subsidized child care has outpaced supply. Specifically:

  • In 2015, 85% of children eligible for subsidized child care did not receive services.
  • In 2017, 89% of children eligible for subsidized child care did not receive services.

An analysis of 2022 data shows an unfortunate continuation of this trend, underscoring the need for a larger supply of subsidized child care spaces in California. 

Child Care and Development Transition

This analysis only includes child care programs within CDSS. The 2020-21 Budget Act transferred the child care and development programs from the California Department of Education (CDE) to CDSS. This transfer was intended to support a more integrated and coordinated system of care that could more effectively serve children, families, and the workforce. Thus, as of July 1, 2021, CDE only maintained oversight of two early learning programs: 1) The California State Preschool Program (CSPP); and 2) Transitional Kindergarten (TK) — both of which are now a part of CDE’s “Universal Pre-K” system. Previous Budget Center analyses of unmet need included CSPP. However, given the transition of programs from CDE to CDSS and related changes to eligibility requirements and other aspects of these programs, this analysis does not include CSPP. A forthcoming publication will explore eligibility and enrollment specific to CSPP. 

What is the unmet need for child care?

In 2022, only one in nine of California’s children eligible for child care actually received services. The number of children eligible for subsidized child care has grown from 1,479,000 in 2015 to 2,161,000 in 2022. While the number of new subsidized child care spaces has increased — notably, 146,000 new spaces were added since 2021-22 — the number of new slots has not kept pace with the growing demand. The chart below provides a visual of the unmet need for child care in California.

What are the implications of failing to meet California’s child care needs?

Families of color in California have historically been denied access to key services and opportunities. These inequities continue to negatively impact Californians of color as recent analyses have shown that poverty rates nearly doubled for Black and Latinx adults in California from 2021 to 2022. Moreover, Californians of color are more likely to struggle with paying for basic expenses.

The chart below shows that children of color are disproportionately eligible for subsidized child care. As the supply of subsidized child care continues to far outpace demand, families of color are most impacted by this insufficient supply. Therefore, the lack of subsidized child care continues to exacerbate the historical and unjust inequities that impact Californians of color.

CDSS’s child care and development programs serve ages zero to twelve. Within this age range, the cost of providing care is the highest for infants and toddlers; yet, providers that serve infants and toddlers typically make less money. Given this context, as well as the potential impacts of TK expansion on the mixed delivery system, there is concern around a diminishing supply of infant and toddler care options.

The chart below shows that across all age groups, only a fraction of those eligible for care are actually enrolled. However, children ages 0-2 are the only age group that is solely served by CDSS’s child care programs (other age groups have access to programs hosted by CDE). Thus, the unmet need for child care is particularly acute for infants and toddlers and failure to expand subsidized child care may disproportionately impact this age group. While school-age children have access to alternatives, it's important to note that the unmet needs stretch beyond infants and toddlers.

How can policymakers address the unmet need for child care?

While the supply of subsidized child care has increased since the dramatic cuts made during the Great Recession, California is still a long ways away from meeting families’ child care needs. Specifically, to help address the unmet need for child care, the 2021-22 enacted budget set a goal of adding 200,000 new child care slots. While 146,000 of these slots have been funded, slot expansion has been delayed for the last two fiscal years. The governor maintains his commitment to fund all 200,000 slots by 2026-27; however, the timeline for funding the remaining 54,000 slots by the deadline remains unclear.

The administration can increase the number of new slots in the 2024-25 budget to make immediate and needed progress on addressing the unmet need for child care. The unmet need for child care in California is an issue that requires state leaders' attention regardless of the cyclical ups and downs of the state budget. State leaders should make significant and sustainable investments in increasing access to affordable child care that meets families’ needs. Failure to do so keeps thousands of families — mainly families of color — on child care waiting lists, hampering their economic mobility and ability to find nurturing care for their children.

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Read this publication in English.

El paquete del presupuesto de 2023-24 incluye varios avances de políticas clave para el aprendizaje y el cuidado infantil. Estos avances ayudarán a expandir el acceso a los programas de aprendizaje y cuidado infantil en California y aumentará temporariamente las tasas de pago de los proveedores de estos servicios. La reforma de tarifas familiares es uno de estos pasos significativos. Específicamente, el presupuesto de 2023-24 incluye $78.4 millones de dólares para la reforma permanente de las tarifas familiares a partir del 1 de octubre de 2023. De acuerdoa la nueva estructura de tarifas familiares: 

  • Las familias con ingresos inferiores al 75% del ingreso medio estatal ya no pagarán tarifa alguna por el cuidado infantil subsidiado;
  • Las familias con ingresos equivalentes al 75% del ingreso promedio estatal o más pagarán tarifas máximas equivalentes al 1% de sus ingresos mensuales; y
  • Se eliminarán las tarifas familiares que se deben de antes del 1 de octubre de 2023. 1Los costos de eliminar el pago de las tarifas familiares atrasados se abordaron en dos proyectos de ley, el proyecto de ley de la asamblea legislativa 100 y el proyecto de ley de la asamblea legislativa 110, y por lo tanto no forman parte de los fondos adjudicados por el presupuesto de 2023-24 para la reforma de tarifas familiares.

Un informe anterior copublicado con Voces de Padres hizo hincapié en el programa de tarifas propuesto por Voces de Padres y cuánto hubieran pagado las familias con el programa de tarifas aprobado antes del presupuesto estatal de 2023-24 (llamado “programa original”) y cuánto hubieran ahorrado con el programa de tarifas propuesto por Voces de Padres. Desde que se hizo ese análisis, el Departamento de Servicios Sociales de California (CDSS, por sus siglas en inglés) ha confirmado el nuevo programa de tarifas familiares para 2023-24 (llamado “programa nuevo”). Se incluyeron la mayoría de los principios propuestos por Voces de Padres en el nuevo programa, a excepción de dos diferencias clave: 1) el CDSS no eliminó las tarifas de las familias de tiempo parcial; 2) el nuevo programa no incorpora la escala de precios variable (basada en los ingresos) propuesta por Voces de Padres.  

De acuerdo con el nuevo programa, las familias que ganan entre el 75% y el 85% del ingreso promedio estatal pagarán una tarifa máxima del 1% de sus ingresos mensuales. El porcentaje exacto difiere según el tamaño de la familia. La tabla a continuación muestra qué porcentaje de los ingresos de la familia se gastaba en con el  programa original y lo compara con cuánto se gastará con el nuevo programa para las familias al 75% del ingreso promedio estatal, por tamaño de familia.

Con el nuevo programa de tarifas familiares, en algunos casos, las familias recuperarán aproximadamente el 10% de sus ingresos anuales. La gráfica a continuación muestra la cantidad de dinero que hubiera pagado en tarifas una familia de dos personas con el programa original y cuánto pagará con el nuevo programa. La tabla correspondiente muestra cuánto ahorrará una familia de dos con el nuevo programa de tarifas familiares.

Los miles de dólares ahorrados por año por muchas familias de toda California las ayudará a pagar sus necesidades básicas tales como los alimentos, el alquiler, y los servicios públicos. En vista del dramático aumento de la pobreza en toda California causada por el vencimiento de la asistencia federal temporaria promulgada para abordar los efectos económicos de la pandemia, la reforma de las tarifas familiares ofrece un cambio de política muy necesario para proporcionar a las familias, y en especial las familias de color de bajos ingresos, los recursos que necesitan para prosperar. 

Foto de encabezado por Allison Shelley para EDUimages.

  • 1
    Los costos de eliminar el pago de las tarifas familiares atrasados se abordaron en dos proyectos de ley, el proyecto de ley de la asamblea legislativa 100 y el proyecto de ley de la asamblea legislativa 110, y por lo tanto no forman parte de los fondos adjudicados por el presupuesto de 2023-24 para la reforma de tarifas familiares.

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key takeaway

California’s 2023-24 budget includes $78.4 million for permanent family fee reform, eliminating fees for families below 75% of the state median income and capping fees at 1% for other families.

Lea esta publicación en español.

The 2023-24 enacted state budget package included several key policy advances for early learning and care. These advances will help to expand access to early learning programs in California and temporarily boost rates for providers. Family fee reform represents one of these significant steps forward. Specifically, the 2023-24 budget includes $78.4 million for permanent family fee reform beginning October 1, 2023. Under the new family fee structure: 

  • Families below 75% of the state median income (SMI) will no longer pay a fee for subsidized child care;
  • Families at or above 75% of the SMI will have fees capped at 1% of their monthly income; and
  • Family fees owed before October 1, 2023 will be waived. 1Costs for waiving past due family fees were addressed in two early action bills — Assembly Bill 100 and Assembly Bill 110 — and are therefore not a part of the 2023-24 enacted budget allocation for family fee reform.

An earlier report co-published with Parent Voices highlighted Parent Voices’ proposed fee schedule and how much families would have paid under the family fee schedule approved prior to the enacted state budget (referred to as the “original schedule”) and how much they would have saved with Parent Voices’ proposed fee schedule. Since this analysis, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has confirmed the new family fee schedule for 2023-24 (referred to as the “new schedule”). Most principles proposed by Parent Voices were included in the new schedule, with the exception of two key differences: 1) CDSS did not eliminate part-time family fees; 2) the new schedule does not incorporate the sliding scale (based on income) proposed by Parent Voices.  

Under the new schedule, families earning between 75% and 85% of SMI will pay no more than 1% of their monthly income in fees. The exact percentage differs slightly based on family size. The table below shows how much of a family’s income was spent on family fees under the original schedule compared to how much will be spent under the new schedule for families at 75% SMI, by household size.

With the new family fee schedule, in some cases, families will recoup nearly 10% of their annual income. The chart below shows the amount of money a two-person family would have paid in fees with the original schedule and how much they will pay with the new schedule. The corresponding table shows how much a family of two will save with the new family fee schedule.

The thousands of dollars saved annually by many families across California will support them with paying for basic needs such as food, rent, and utilities. Given the dramatic increase in poverty across California, as a result of the expiration of temporary federal aid enacted to address the economic effects of the pandemic, family fee reform is a much-needed policy change to provide families, particularly families of color with low incomes, with the resources they need to thrive. 

Banner photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages.

  • 1
    Costs for waiving past due family fees were addressed in two early action bills — Assembly Bill 100 and Assembly Bill 110 — and are therefore not a part of the 2023-24 enacted budget allocation for family fee reform.

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About this event

Children and their families deserve access to affordable and reliable early learning and care options that promote whole-child development and support family well-being. Moving toward a mixed early-learning delivery system can help make this a reality for California families. 

Join us to learn more about California’s current early learning system and how policymakers can strengthen the workforce and support transitioning to a mixed-delivery system that better supports whole-child development. 

You’ll hear from researchers, advocates, and providers about their efforts to build affordable and reliable early learning and care services that meet each family’s unique needs. 

What is a Mixed-Delivery System?

A mixed-delivery system is a combination of programs, providers, and settings that allow families to choose the option that best meets their needs, such as the location, hours, and curriculum.

Thank you to our event sponsors

Blue Shield of California Foundation, Heising Simons Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Hilton Foundation

About the California Budget & Policy Center

The California Budget & Policy Center is a research and analysis nonprofit advancing public policies that expand opportunities and promote well-being for all Californians.

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key takeaway

California’s early learning and care system can be improved by expanding access to affordable and reliable programs that meet families’ needs.

Introduction

Children and their families deserve access to affordable and reliable early learning and care options that promote whole-child development and support overall family well-being. Families should also have the opportunity to choose early learning and care programs that best meet their needs and goals — families have the expertise on what their children need and know what’s best for them.  

However, inequitable and fragmented funding structures, misaligned programs, workforce challenges, and other barriers in state-funded early learning and care programs prevent children and their families from accessing the benefits of early learning. These barriers limit early learning and care opportunities and leave families with few or no options in their communities. This can have immediate and long-term implications for children’s development and overall well-being.

California’s state leaders can strengthen and expand access to early learning and care opportunities by fully developing a mixed delivery system tailored to the needs and diversity of California families. A mixed delivery system allows families to choose programs for their children that best meet their needs and preferences such as location, hours, and curriculum. Moreover, with a mixed delivery system the state can leverage resources and infrastructure across programs and also strengthen conditions for early learning educators.

This report explores California’s early learning and care system and provides key considerations to designing a mixed delivery system that meets families’ needs. California’s early learning and care system can be revamped by:

  • Increasing investments that align with children and family needs.
  • Strengthening the entire early learning and care workforce.
  • Aligning programs at the state and local level, especially as Transitional Kindergarten (TK) is expanded and becomes universal over the next few years.

Early Learning and Care Options for California Families

The state offers — through a system of early learning providers — several early learning and care programs at reduced or no cost to families based on specific eligibility requirements. These programs aim at supporting families with the lowest incomes. The following table shows the key programs included in California’s current early learning and care system.1Child care and early learning programs not in this table include: the Migrant Alternative Payment Program, Migrant Child Care and Development Program, Emergency Child Care Bridge Program for Foster Children, and Children with Severe Disabilities. Key points from this table include:

  • Early learning options vary in terms of setting, schedule, ages, payment, and eligibility.
  • Programs included as part of California’s subsidized child care system are housed within the California Department of Social Services (CDSS).
  • CDE considers preschool-age programs (as well as Head Start) to be under the umbrella of “Universal Prekindergarten (UPK),” which includes TK.2A complete description of CDE’s definition of Universal Prekindergarten can be found here: https://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/ts-universalprek.asp.
  • Programs specifically focused on preschool-age children (3 and 4 years of age) are housed within the California Department of Education (CDE). This is aside from Head Start which is federally funded.
  • The following CDSS programs are voucher-based programs (serving children ages 0-12) and are referred to throughout this brief as “voucher programs:” CalWORKs Stage One, CalWORKs Stage Two, CalWORKs Stage Three, and the Alternative Payment Program.

No or Reduced Cost Child Care and Early Learning Options

CDSS-Operated Child Care and Development ProgramsUniversal Preschool Programs
CalWORKs Stage 1CalWORKs Stages 2 & 3Alternative Payment ProgramGeneral Child CareState PreschoolHead StartTransitional Kindergarten
DescriptionProvides child care vouchers to CalWORKs families at the beginning of welfare-to-work activitiesProvides child care vouchers to CalWORKs families when they are determined to be stable. Families move to Stage 3 when they have been off cash aid for 24 months and if funding is availableProvides child care vouchers for eligible low-income families.Provides child care through centers or family child care home networks operated by public or private agencies and local educational agenciesProvides child care services based around a core class curriculum and is administered through local educational agencies, colleges, community agencies, and private agenciesThrough federal funding, provides early learning opportunities and developmental services for low-income childrenThe first year of a two-year kindergarten program that provides children with an additional year of learning in a classroom-setting to help prepare them for kindergarten
Settings– Family Child Care
– Family, Friend, and Neighbor
– Center-Based
– Family Child Care
– Center-Based
– Family Child Care
– Family, Friend, and Neighbor
– Center-Based
– Family Child Care
– Center-Based
– School-Based
-Community-Based
– Center-Based
– Home-Based
– Family Child Care
– School-Based
Schedule-Full day
-Part day
-Nontraditional
-Full day
-Part day
-Nontraditional
-Full day
-Part day
-Nontraditional
-Full day
-Part day
-Nontraditional
-Full day
-Part day
-Full day
-Part day
-Part day or Full day (depends on district)
-Expanded Learning Opportunities Program (ELO-P) available outside of part-day schedule
Ages12 and under12 and under12 and under12 and under3 and 4 year-olds-Head Start: 3-5 years old
-Early Head Start: birth to 3 years old
4 and 5 year-olds
Payment-Free under 40% SMI
-Family fee between 40%-85% SMI
-Free under 40% SMI
-Family fee between 40%-85% SMI
-Free under 40% SMI
-Family fee between 40%-85% SMI
-Free under 40% SMI
-Family fee between 40%-85% SMI
-Free under 40% SMI
-Family fee between 40%-85% SMI
-Free (when income eligible)-Free
Income eligibility-At or below 85% of the SMI-At or below 85% of the SMI-At or below 85% of the SMI-At or below 85% of the SMI-At or below the SMI-Below federal poverty income guidelines-None

As shown in the table, the state’s early learning and care system is complex. Families seeking early learning and care programs confront a complicated set of options and requirements that can be challenging to navigate.

Early learning and care providers have to follow rules and regulations from different programs and contracts and compete for enrollment and funding.3Prior to 2020, early learning programs were administered by CDE. The 2020-21 budget act transitioned most programs, except for CSPP, to CDSS. The expansion of TK that began in 2021-22 and that will be available to all four-year-olds by 2025, free of charge, adds additional complexity to the system. Alignment with other programs is crucial to ensure the system as whole works toward a mixed delivery system that centers the needs of children and families.  

Programs can be revamped into a mixed delivery system tailored to the needs of California’s families and children that takes into account the diversity in background, household structure, as well as the inequities many of these children and families face. Some key facts that highlight the diversity of children and families include:

  • Nearly a quarter of children live in a single-parent household.
  • Approximately 20% of children ages 0-5 live in a multigenerational household.
  • More than 50% of children ages 0-5 live in a home that speaks a language other than English.
  • A higher proportion of Black and Latinx children ages 0-5 live in lower income households, as detailed in the chart below.
A stacked bar chart showing children ages 0-5 by race/ethnicity and household income in California in 2023 where Black and Latinx children are more likely to live in lower-income households.

A mixed delivery system is also attentive to children’s needs across all ages. The chart below shows the population of children ages 0-3 and ages 4-5 across time. As shown, there are millions of infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children. Notably, while the population of 0-3 year olds has declined over the past decade, there are still over one million non-preschool-aged children in California with early learning and care needs.

A line chart showing the number of children ages 0 to 5 where there are millions of infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children in California.

Given the variety of early learning options offered by thousands of early learning providers across various settings (including centers, family child care homes, and schools), California has an opportunity to create a mixed delivery system that attends to the diversity of children and families. By developing this system, the state can also leverage resources and infrastructure to strengthen opportunities for the workforce to expand and grow their career and businesses.

Program Examples

The following examples highlight ways in which communities are utilizing current early learning programs to resemble a mixed delivery system that meets families’ needs. These examples illustrate how providers design programs, how programs benefit families, as well as some implementation challenges.

Special thank you to Early Childhood Discovery Centers and Tulare County Office of Education for providing the information included in these examples and the photos used in this report.

Community Based Preschool and Care

Early Childhood Discovery Centers, Inc. (ECDC), an organization that runs early learning programs in Selma, California, serves multiple age groups in school-based and non-school-based settings using a variety of funding sources. ECDC programs receive most of their funding from the state through contracts with CDE and CDSS. They also receive funding from a federal program specifically to provide meals. ECDC offers part-day and full-day preschool programs for children ages 3 to 5, and they offer a full-day toddler program. ECDC serves around 250 families from diverse backgrounds, needs, and preferences. Families want safe and enriching spaces where their children can learn. ECDC strives to offer programs designed along those overarching goals.

School Based Preschool

Lindsay Unified, in Tulare county, offers a combination of programs for preschool-age children for families who prefer services through a school district. In addition to the TK program, the district also holds a CSPP contract, which allows them to stack UTK classrooms with CSPP classrooms to create a more seamless preschool experience for families. For example, TK can be offered in the morning for 3 hours and CSPP in the afternoon for another 3 hours. This approach to deliver programs prioritizes families and helps break down the silos that exist between these early programs due to funding, rules, and various other aspects.

State Spending and Enrollment for California’s Early Learning and Care Programs

As mentioned, there are a variety of early learning programs available to children and families in California. Each of these programs, except for Head Start which is federally funded, receives funding from the state to provide care at reduced or no cost to families. Generally, funding for General Child Care, voucher programs, and non-school-based CSPP come from the state’s General Fund. Funding for TK and school-based CSPP comes from the Proposition 98 General Fund — Prop. 98 guarantees a minimum level of funding specifically for TK-12 schools, the CSPP program, and the state’s community colleges. 

A column chart showing the annual percent change in spending for early learning and care programs relative to 2014 to 2015 where spending on TK and CSPP has tripled in nine years.

State spending on early learning has varied over time, as shown in the chart above. Since 2014-15, funding for voucher programs, CSPP, General Child Care, and TK has increased greatly. The largest increases have been in the CSPP and TK programs, with those two programs receiving 3.5 times and 3 times more funding in 2022-23 than they did in 2014-15, respectively.

A column chart showing the annual percent change in enrollment relative to 2014 to 2015 where enrollment has remained constant for most early learning and care programs.

From 2014-15 until 2021-22, enrollment for early learning programs has remained relatively steady, or even decreased, as shown in the enrollment chart above.5Enrollment data for 2022-23 was not not available for most programs at the time of publishing. Enrollment in voucher programs has grown slightly since 2014-15, but the other programs are at enrollment levels almost identical to 2014-15 or even slightly less. Spending on General Child Care, for example, is 2.5 times higher than what it was in 2014-15, but enrollment is below 2014-15 levels. While there are many reasons for changes (or lack thereof) in enrollment across programs — ranging from COVID-19 challenges, administrative challenges, public awareness, etc. — trends do provide insight into family preferences and needs.

A mixed delivery system requires spending and investments in programs that align with the needs of California’s diverse families. However, currently funding is not matching enrollment levels, such as in UTK where spending has tripled since 2014-15, while enrollment has decreased over a similar time period. As further detailed in the implications that follow, significant and ongoing state investments are necessary to address key aspects of a mixed delivery system, including a well-compensated and trained workforce, outreach and family inclusion, and well-coordinated structures for collaboration.

Implications for Children, Families, and the Early Learning and Care Workforce

With the ongoing expansion of TK and the integral role of child care for supporting families recovering from economic hardships experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state faces an urgent need to work toward a mixed delivery system that supports the needs of all of California’s children and families. As the state and local governments move forward with planning for a mixed delivery system — through mechanisms such as the UPK Mixed-Delivery Quality and Access Workgroup and the UPK Mixed-Delivery Planning Grants — the following implications will be important for consideration.

Implications for equitable and accessible care

Overall, the unmet need for early learning and care in California is high. Earlier analyses show that eight out of nine children eligible for subsidized early learning and care in California do not receive services. Within this context, the funding and enrollment trends highlighted previously point to key implications for families’ ability to access child care.

Funding for early learning and care and programs does not align with family preferences and needs.

Although funding trends show the highest increase in funds for TK and CSPP, enrollment trends do not match. Specifically, enrollment trends show that voucher programs have the highest positive change in enrollment in recent years. This misalignment suggests that programs are not being funded in a way that matches the preferences and needs of families. Moreover, funding trends show that investments in early learning have increased the most for four-year-olds, even though infants and toddlers have historically faced higher costs of care.

Two children playing with rubber ducks at an early learning and care center.

TK expansion has left families confused on how to enroll and if they are eligible.

While funding for TK has increased, enrollment has not kept pace. This may be explained by the challenges families face when navigating the early learning and care system, as explained further in the subsequent bullets. Although TK is free, TK enrollment requirements (i.e., which four-year-olds are eligible and when) have been confusing for families.6Ana Powell and Tobi Adejumo, Why is Transitional Kindergarten Enrollment Lagging? A Look at Parent Survey Data (Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, June 2023).

Additionally, while TK will become universal for all four-year-olds by 2025, some families will still choose other programs, or a combination of programs, due to families having a diverse set of child care needs.7Powell and Adejumo, A Look at Parent Survey Data. With this in mind, California must equitably invest in all of their early learning and care programs to meet the needs of all California families and children.

Current efforts to expand TK do not align with the diversity of California’s children and families.

TK teachers are predominantly white (71%) and only approximately one-fifth of teachers are multilingual.8Elena Montoya et al., Teaching Transitional Kindergarten: A Snapshot of the Teacher Experience Before UTK Expansion (Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, December 2022), 2. However, as shown previously, California’s children and families are diverse; thus, their racial/ethnic and linguistic backgrounds do not match the TK teacher demographics — a trend that mirrors the K-12 system. The state’s investments in early learning and care should promote options that meet the cultural and linguistic needs of all California families. As TK continues to expand, ensuring alignment in cultural and linguistic diversity will promote a successful mixed delivery system.

Systems Coordination

California’s early learning and care programs are fragmented. Each program has specific rules and requirements that can create barriers for providers enrolling children and families trying to access services. Moreover, programs are administered by two different state agencies, which makes it difficult to coordinate implementation through a 0-5 lens.

A young child sitting on a brown leather chair reading a book.

Early learning and care programs are misaligned.

Many programs have the same income eligibility, schedule, payment structure for families, and serve similar age groups. However, they also differ slightly in terms of setting, funding mechanism, and the overall intent of each program (see table above). This fragmentation has implications for both families and providers. Providers, for example, are required to hold various contracts with state agencies, which impacts the design and delivery of programs.

With the development of a more equitable and unified funding mechanism already underway, the state could consolidate and streamline — as proposed by the Master Plan for Early Learning and Care  and the Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education Report — several of these programs to remove barriers for providers as well as families navigating the system and still offer families choice in terms of setting and other preferences.

Furthermore, the expansion of TK does provide more options for families. However, it must be well aligned and coordinated with other early learning and care programs that also serve four-year-olds to meet the needs of children and families. This includes access to a full day of early learning and care services. 

Data on early learning at the state level are not centralized.

Data needed to track program participation, funding, and other key measures are fragmented or unavailable. This has significant implications for the entire system. For example, enrollment data are split between two state departments and it’s difficult to find the unduplicated number of children participating in each of the programs. Moreover, the state doesn’t maintain a centralized list on the number of families waiting for a child care voucher.

As a result, the state does not know how many families are waiting to receive child care assistance. Additionally, the state not have the reliable data needed to assess where to invest additional resources to improve services.

A more centralized data system can support a mixed delivery system by helping to:

Administration and governance at the local level is uncoordinated.

There are various entities at the local level that provide early learning and care services, administer funding, provide professional development or technical assistance, and other responsibilities. Each of these entities, such as school districts or Family Child Care Home Education Networks, serve similar communities but are not set up to work in partnership.

The state has implemented several efforts to coordinate early learning programs at a more local level. One example is the Local Planning Councils, which are tasked with supporting access to programs at the county level. Another example is the UPK efforts led by CDE to support localities in implementing a mixed delivery system for preschool-age children. These efforts are an initial step in developing collaborative relationships, however, it is not clear what entity is accountable and has the authority to ensure programs are well coordinated to make services available to families.

As a result, a robust mixed delivery system may be challenged by local coordination issues as families may not have clarity on all the programs they can access and how to access them.

Workforce Implications

California’s child care system includes 116,800 members of the early learning and care workforce. Funding and enrollment trends hold direct implications for the workforce. This, in turn, impacts the ability for California to develop a true mixed delivery system.

The increased investment in TK may result in K-12 teachers transitioning to TK, as opposed to staffing TK classrooms with educators who have a background in early learning.

With the increase in funding for TK and the anticipated increase in enrollment, school districts will need more teachers to lead and support TK classrooms. As a result, many schools may move teachers with the needed credentials into teaching TK, even if they lack experience with appropriate age groups. A TK instructor currently needs a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and 24 credits in early childhood education. However, this requirement is not mandated until 2025. Thus, as TK continues to expand, classrooms are likely to be filled with K-12 teachers and not early educators with specific child development experience.

A early learning and care provider and a child looking at a puzzle.

Focusing state resources on preschool-age children leaves out key parts of the workforce and exacerbates pay inequities.

Pathways to teaching TK require early educators to obtain higher education units and credentials. Specifically, the PK-3 credential mandates a bachelor’s degree and the completion of a PK-3 ECE Specialist Instruction Credential preparation program.9More information about the PK-3 credential and its requirements can be found here: https://www.ctc.ca.gov/docs/default-source/commission/agendas/2022-04/2022-04-3h.pdf?sfvrsn=5afb27b1_3 Current providers — such as family child care providers and center-based providers — often do not have the time or resources to enter into the higher education system. Their years of experience cannot support a transition to a TK lead teacher without obtaining a degree, thus presenting barriers for many providers with accessing these opportunities.

Family child care providers and center-based providers (who also teach four-year-olds) earn lower wages than a TK lead teacher and have faced enduring challenges with receiving a fair and just wage.10Detailed analyses on the pay gap between TK teachers and child care providers was produced by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment: https://cscce.berkeley.edu/publications/data-snapshot/double-or-nothing-potential-tk-wages-for-californias-early-educators/. Moreover, recent efforts to reform the amount child care providers are paid have been met with one-time funding increases, as opposed to an ongoing funding commitment similar to TK. Thus, creating narrow pathways to becoming a TK provider may contribute to inequities in the early learning workforce with regards to compensation.

State leaders continue to fail in making significant investments in linguistically and racially diverse educators working in 0-5 settings.

While early data shows that TK lead teachers are majority white and monolingual English speakers, family child care providers are predominantly people of color (71%) and over half (52%) speak non-English languages.11Early data on the TK workforce was collected and analyzed by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment: https://cscce.berkeley.edu/publications/report/teaching-transitional-kindergarten/. However, as mentioned previously, family child care providers face barriers to becoming TK lead teachers. By narrowing investments in TK, the state is inherently disinvesting in promoting and developing more diverse parts of the early learning workforce that better match the demographics of California’s children.

Conclusion

California can strengthen and expand access to early learning opportunities by investing in and fully developing a mixed delivery system that prioritizes the unique needs and preferences of children and their families. These needs and preferences include non-traditional hours, multilingual environments, preferred learning settings, among others. Current funding, especially for programs outside of schools, is not sufficient to fully realize a mixed delivery system. Inadequate funding to support California’s youngest learners has significant drawbacks that impact families’ access — particularly for those with lower incomes and from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds — to programs in their communities as well as early learning providers and educators trying to make a living wage in this field. As the state continues to focus on efforts to create a stronger mixed delivery system, state leaders should consider:

This report highlighted that the early learning system is complex and in many ways does not meet families’ needs and preferences — as shown through misalignment in spending and enrollment. The expansion of TK adds another layer of complexity to the system that can serve as an opportunity to align and redesign programs that serve children 0-5 and move toward a universal mixed delivery system equipped to serve millions of children and families who have little or no opportunity to enroll in a program.


Support for this report was provided by the Ballmer Group.

  • 1
    Child care and early learning programs not in this table include: the Migrant Alternative Payment Program, Migrant Child Care and Development Program, Emergency Child Care Bridge Program for Foster Children, and Children with Severe Disabilities.
  • 2
    A complete description of CDE’s definition of Universal Prekindergarten can be found here: https://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/ts-universalprek.asp.
  • 3
    Prior to 2020, early learning programs were administered by CDE. The 2020-21 budget act transitioned most programs, except for CSPP, to CDSS.
  • 4
    The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) is the state’s TK-12 education funding formula. The LCFF provides school districts, charter schools, and county offices of education a base grant per student, adjusted to reflect the number of students at various grade levels, as well as additional grants for the costs of educating English learners, students from low-income families, and foster youth.
  • 5
    Enrollment data for 2022-23 was not not available for most programs at the time of publishing.
  • 6
    Ana Powell and Tobi Adejumo, Why is Transitional Kindergarten Enrollment Lagging? A Look at Parent Survey Data (Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, June 2023).
  • 7
    Powell and Adejumo, A Look at Parent Survey Data.
  • 8
    Elena Montoya et al., Teaching Transitional Kindergarten: A Snapshot of the Teacher Experience Before UTK Expansion (Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, December 2022), 2.
  • 9
    More information about the PK-3 credential and its requirements can be found here: https://www.ctc.ca.gov/docs/default-source/commission/agendas/2022-04/2022-04-3h.pdf?sfvrsn=5afb27b1_3
  • 10
    Detailed analyses on the pay gap between TK teachers and child care providers was produced by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment: https://cscce.berkeley.edu/publications/data-snapshot/double-or-nothing-potential-tk-wages-for-californias-early-educators/
  • 11
    Early data on the TK workforce was collected and analyzed by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment: https://cscce.berkeley.edu/publications/report/teaching-transitional-kindergarten/

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Read this publication in English.

El cuidado infantil asequible y enriquecedor es esencial para apoyar a las familias de California. Aunque la ayuda del gobierno federal proporcionó fondos para apoyar el sistema de cuidado infantil de California durante el COVID-19, estos fondos son temporales y muchas familias pronto enfrentarán la realidad de costos más altos para el cuidado infantil. Esto es particularmente importante para las mujeres de color que tenían muchas más probabilidades de sufrir los efectos económicos de la recesión del COVID-19.

Según datos recolectados en el año 2020, las mujeres latinas, afroamericanas y la mayoría de las demás mujeres de color tenían muchas más probabilidades de vivir en hogares atrasados ​​con el pago de la renta o la hipoteca y en hogares con dificultad para poner suficientes alimentos en sus mesas. Durante este periodo de tiempo, el estado de California suspendió el requisito de que las familias que participan en el programa estatal de subsidios para el cuidado infantil paguen tarifas asociadas con el cuidado infantil, también conocidas como “tarifas familiares”. Esta suspensión vence el 30 de septiembre de 2023.

Sin embargo, con el liderazgo de Voces de Padres en movilización y defesa (como se detalla más abajo), a partir del 1 de octubre de 2023, las familias tendrán un programa de tarifas más equitativo que minimiza la necesidad de tener que escoger entre pagar por cuidado de niños y pagar otras necesidades básicas. Los líderes estatales ahora tienen la oportunidad de adoptar un programa de tarifas que realmente minimice los desafíos económicos que ya enfrentan muchas familias de California.

Acerca de esta publicación

Esta publicación fue escrita en colaboración con Voces de Padres. A través de la organización de base y el desarrollo de liderazgo, Voces de Padres activa y centra la sabiduría de los padres para transformar el cuidado infantil y garantizar que todos los sistemas que impactan a nuestras familias sean justos, equitativos e inclusivos.

Un agradecimiento especial a Marisol Rosales, una madre líder de Voces de Padres, por traducir este informe al español.

Acerca de las tarifas familiares para el cuidado infantil

Las tarifas familiares varían según los ingresos de la familia. Una familia que gana hasta el 85% del ingreso medio estatal califica para el programa de cuidado infantil subsidiado por el estado.1Las familias con ingresos hasta el 100% del ingreso medio estatal califican para el Programa Preescolar del Estado de California. El monto de una tarifa para el cuidado infantil de tiempo completo y de tiempo parcial está asociado con niveles de ingresos de hasta el 85 % del ingreso medio estatal. Estas familias deben pagar una tarifa basada en sus ingresos para acceder al cuidado infantil de tiempo completo o tiempo parcial subsidiado por el estado.

Cada año fiscal, el Departamento de Servicios Sociales de California establece los montos de tarifas para cada nivel de ingresos en un “programa de tarifas familiares”. Estas tarifas han sido inasequibles para las familias de California con ingresos bajos a moderados, lo que las ha obligado a muchas familias a decidir entre pagar el cuidado de niños y otras necesidades básicas, como alimentos y vivienda.

Sin embargo, la ley de presupuesto estatal de 2023-24 modificó permanentemente el programa de tarifas para que estos pagos sean más asequibles. Específicamente, a partir del 1 de octubre de 2023, las familias con ingresos por debajo del 75% del ingreso medio estatal ya no pagarán una tarifa, y las tarifas tendrán un límite del 1% de sus ingresos para aquellas familias al 75% o más del ingreso medio estatal. La siguiente tabla muestra los ingresos anuales de una familia al 75% del ingreso medio estatal.2Las estimaciones de ingreso medio estatal se basan en la encuesta American Community Survey del año 2021.

Ingresos al 75% del ingreso medio estatal

Número de miembros en la familiaIngresos anuales
1-2$64,884
3$73,382
4$84,969

Además, familias no tendrán que pagar tarifas pendientes de antes del 1 de octubre de 2023. La ley de presupuesto estatal de 2023-24 refleja los principales puntos de reforma de las tarifas familiares de Voces de Padres (como se detalla a continuación), pero el programa específico de tarifas que refleja estos puntos aún no se ha confirmado.

Hacia un programa de tarifas más equitativo

Desde 2019, padres líderes de Voces de Padres han expresado sus frustraciones y preocupaciones sobre el alto costo de las tarifas familiares. Señalaron el confuso formato del programa y cómo las altas tarifas limitan las posibilidades para sus familias. Los padres líderes se enteraron de que otros estados tienen programas de tarifas más asequibles y fáciles de entender.

Concretamente, los padres líderes se inspiraron en el programa de tarifas de Dakota del Sur, el cual limita los pagos al 1% de los ingresos de una familia, y también en el programa del estado de Washington que tiene un formato fácil de entender. Lo que surgió de esta investigación y conversaciones fue una visión clara para mejorar el programa de tarifas familiares en California, que incluye:

  • Eliminación de tarifas para todas las familias con ingresos hasta el 75% del ingreso medio estatal.
  • Tarifas en una escala móvil de pago equitativa con un límite del 1% de ingresos para familias al 75% o más del ingreso medio estatal. 
  • Simplificar el programa de tarifas para que los principales niveles de ingresos se agrupen.
  • Suspender el cobro de tarifas atrasadas.3Muchas familias tenían planes de pago antes de la pandemia. Esos planes de pago han estado suspendidos, y sin medidas por parte de lideres estatales, los pagos reiniciarían el 1 de octubre de 2023.

Voces de Padres, con el apoyo del Child Care Resource Center y Every Child California, creó este sueño en un programa de tarifas familiares concreto que permitiría a las familias minimizar la necesidad de tener que escoger entre pagar por el cuidado infantil y pagar otras necesidades básicas. El programa de tarifas propuesto por Voces de Padres cuenta con el respaldo de sus padres líderes y refleja ahorros sustanciales comparado con el programa de tarifas original del Departamento de Servicios Sociales de California de 2023-24.

Expandiendo oportunidades con un nuevo programa de tarifas

La siguiente tabla muestra que porcentaje de los ingresos de una familia compuesta por una madre y su hijo debe gastarse en tarifas según el programa del Departamento de Servicios Sociales de California de 2023-24 comparado con el programa propuesto por Voces de Padres.

Porcentaje de ingresos pagados en tarifas para una familia de dos

Ingreso medio estatalIngresos anualesPorcentaje de ingresos pagados en tarifas: programa del Departamento de Servicios Sociales 23-24Porcentaje de ingresos pagados en tarifas: Programa de Voces de Padres
40% a 74%$34,606 – $64,0202.5% – 9.9%0%
75%$64,8849.9%0.2%
76%$65,7519.9%0.2%
78%$67,4819.9%0.2%
80%$69,2119.9%0.2%
82%$70,9419.9%0.4%
83%$71,8079.9%0.4%
84%$72,6729.9%0.4%
85%$73,5379.9%0.4%

Con el programa de tarifas familiares de Voces de Padres, en algunos casos, las familias recuperarían casi el 10% de sus ingresos anuales. La siguiente gráfica muestra la cantidad de dinero que las familias de California de dos personas ahorrarían al usar el programa de tarifas de Voces de Padres. La tabla (después de la gráfica) muestra la cantidad de las tarifas para familias al 75% del ingreso medio estatal para varios tamaños de familias.

Cantidad anual en tarifas familiares para una familia al 75% del ingreso medio estatal

Número de miembros en la familiaPrograma del Departamento de Servicios Sociales 23-24Programa de Voces de Padres
1-2$6,418$133
3$6,418$151
4$6,418$174

Los padres líderes compartieron lo que estos ahorros podrían hacer posible para sus familias:

De acuerdo con los números de inscripción del año anterior y con el actual programa de tarifas del Departamento de Servicios Sociales de California, las familias pagarían colectivamente más de $100 millones de dólares en tarifas durante el transcurso del año. La ley de presupuesto estatal de 2023-24 reducirá significativamente el monto de las tarifas familiares, y en los próximos meses, líderes estatales consolidarán una escala actualizada de tarifas para confirmar exactamente cuánto será esta reducción.

A medida que los líderes estatales deciden sobre el nuevo programa de tarifas para 2023-24, el programa de tarifas familiares propuesto por Voces de Padres proporciona un modelo para garantizar que las familias, en particular aquellas encabezadas por mujeres de color como Elizabeth, Stevie y Karina, tengan los ingresos necesarios para pagar las necesidades básicas como la renta, servicios públicos y comida, para abrir posibilidades y lograr sus metas profesionales y educativas y también brindar una vida enriquecedora para sus hijos.

  • 1
    Las familias con ingresos hasta el 100% del ingreso medio estatal califican para el Programa Preescolar del Estado de California.
  • 2
    Las estimaciones de ingreso medio estatal se basan en la encuesta American Community Survey del año 2021.
  • 3
    Muchas familias tenían planes de pago antes de la pandemia. Esos planes de pago han estado suspendidos, y sin medidas por parte de lideres estatales, los pagos reiniciarían el 1 de octubre de 2023.

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key takeaway

With the leadership of Parent Voices’ efforts, families will have a more equitable family fee schedule that minimizes tradeoffs between paying for child care and other essentials. Starting October 1, 2023, families below 75% of the state median income (SMI) will no longer pay a family fee, and fees will be capped at 1% for families at 75% or over the SMI.

Lea esta publicación en español.

Affordable and nurturing child care is essential for supporting California’s families. While federal relief dollars provided one-time funding to support California’s child care system during COVID-19, this funding is not ongoing, and many families will soon face the reality of higher costs for child care. This is particularly consequential for women of color who were far more likely to experience the economic effects of the COVID-19 recession.

According to data collected in 2020, Latinx, Black, and most other women of color were far more likely to live in households that were behind on their rent or mortgage payment and in households struggling to afford enough food. During this time, the state suspended the requirement for families participating in the state child care subsidy program to pay any fees associated with child care, otherwise known as “family fees.” This suspension expires on September 30, 2023.

However, with the leadership of Parent Voices’ organizing and advocacy efforts (as further detailed below), starting October 1, 2023, families will have a more equitable family fee schedule that minimizes tradeoffs between paying for child care and other basic needs. State leaders now have the opportunity to adopt a family fee schedule that truly minimizes economic challenges already faced by many California families.

About This Report

This Issue Brief was co-authored with Parent Voices. Through grassroots organizing and leadership development, Parent Voices activates and centers the wisdom of parents to transform child care and ensure all systems that impact California families are just, fair, and inclusive.

Special thank you to Marisol Rosales, a parent leader with Parent Voices, for translating this piece into Spanish.

About Family Fees

Family fees vary depending on a family’s income. A family earning up to 85% of the state median income (SMI) qualifies for the state subsidized child care program.1Families earning up to 100% of the state median income qualify for the California State Preschool Program. A family fee amount for both full-day and part-day care is associated with income levels up to 85% SMI. These families must pay an income-based family fee to access subsidized full-day or part-day care.

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) sets the fee amounts for each income level in a “family fee schedule” each fiscal year. These fees have been unaffordable for low to moderate income California families, forcing them to make hard choices between paying for child care and other basic needs such as food and housing.

However, the 2023-24 Budget Act permanently revised the family fee schedule to make these payments more affordable. Specifically, starting October 1, 2023, families below 75% of the SMI will no longer pay a family fee, and fees will be capped at 1% for families at 75% or over the SMI. The table below shows a family’s annual income at 75% of the SMI.2SMI estimates are based off of the 2021 American Community Survey.

Annual Income at 75% of the SMI

Family SizeAnnual Income
1-2$64,884
3$73,382
4$84,969
5$98,564

Moreover, outstanding fees prior to October 1, 2023 will be waived. While the 2023-24 Budget Act reflects Parent Voices’ main family fee reform points (as detailed below), the specific family fee schedule reflecting these points has yet to be confirmed.

Toward a More Equitable Family Fee Schedule

Since 2019, Parent Voices’ parent leaders have voiced their frustrations and concerns about the high price of family fees. They pointed to the schedule’s confusing formatting and how high family fees limited what was possible for their families. Parent leaders learned that other states have more affordable family fee schedules that are easier to understand.

Namely, parent leaders drew inspiration from South Dakota’s family fee schedule which capped payments at 1% of a family’s income, as well as Washington state’s schedule which had an easy-to-understand format. What emerged from this research and conversations was a clear vision for improvements to California’s family fee schedule, including:

  • Removing family fees for all families up to 75% of the SMI. 
  • For families at 75% of the SMI or higher, paying fees on an equitable sliding scale capped at 1% of their income. 
  • Simplifying the family fee schedule so that key income levels are grouped together.
  • Stopping the collection of delinquent family fees.

Parent Voices, with the support of the Child Care Resource Center and Every Child California, translated this dream into a concrete family fee schedule that would allow families to minimize the tradeoffs they often make between child care and basic needs. The family fee schedule proposed by Parent Voices is endorsed by their parent leaders and reflects substantial savings from the original CDSS 2023-24 family fee schedule.

Expanding Opportunities with a New Family Fee Schedule

The table below shows how much of a family’s income must be spent on family fees under the CDSS 2023-24 fee schedule and under Parent Voices’ proposed schedule for a single parent with one child.

Percent of Income Spent on Family Fees for a Family of Two

State Median IncomeAnnual IncomePercent of Income Paid in Family Fees:
CDSS FY 23-24 Schedule
Percent of Income Paid in Family Fees: Parent Voices Schedule
40% to 74%$34,606 – $64,0202.5% – 9.9%0%
75%$64,8849.9%0.2%
76%$65,7519.9%0.2%
78%$67,4819.9%0.2%
80%$69,2119.9%0.2%
82%$70,9419.9%0.4%
83%$71,8079.9%0.4%
84%$72,6729.9%0.4%
85%$73,5379.9%0.4%

With the Parent Voices family fee schedule, in some cases, families would recoup over nearly 10% of their annual income. The chart below shows the amount of money California families of two would save from using the Parent Voices family fee schedule. The table that follows shows the amount owed in family fees at 75% of the SMI for various-sized households.

A line chart showing the annual fees for a family of two by the percent of state median income where a more equitable family fee schedule would help many families save thousands of dollars in child care fees.

Amount Owed Annually on Family Fees for a Family at 75% of the SMI

Family Size23-24 CDSS ScheduleParent Voices Schedule
1-2$6,418$133
3$6,418$151
4$6,418$174
5$6,418$202

Parent leaders shared what this reclaimed income could make possible for their families:

Based on prior year enrollment numbers, using the current CDSS family fee schedule, families would collectively pay over $100 million in families fees over the course of the year. The 2023-24 Budget Act will create a significant reduction in the amount of family fees, and state leaders will act in the coming months to solidify a revised family fee scale to determine exactly how much this reduction will be.

As state leaders decide on the new 2023-24 family fee schedule, Parent Voices’ proposed family fee schedule provides a model to ensure that families – particularly those headed by women of color like Elizabeth, Stevie, and Karina – have the income needed to pay for basic needs such as rent, utilities, and groceries, to open up possibilities for achieving their professional and educational goals and provide an enriching life for their children. 

  • 1
    Families earning up to 100% of the state median income qualify for the California State Preschool Program.
  • 2
    SMI estimates are based off of the 2021 American Community Survey.

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