What do UC Berkeley students and children ages 0 to 5 have in common?
The cost of quality education keeps rising for both of us, and too many California children and young adults will never make it into the preschool classrooms or onto the college campuses that are critical to their ability to survive and thrive in this state.
Here at UC Berkeley, many of us know the pain when tuition increases eat into our budgets for housing, food and transportation costs. I have juggled many jobs at once to help pay for my education, which started at Skyline College in San Bruno before I could afford to transfer to Berkeley and pursue a legal studies degree. I live with my mom, an early educator, in a nearby apartment to cut down on costs. We have often found ourselves living paycheck to paycheck so that I can get a solid education.
Beyond our campus, young children and families in Alameda County are feeling the same squeeze. Many work multiple jobs and struggle to afford the average cost of child care, which can be higher than UC Berkeley tuition.
This is why I’m spending my free time working to help more young children have access to quality child care and urging my fellow classmates, faculty and campus staff to join me in supporting Measure A on the June 5 ballot.
If approved by Alameda County voters, Measure A will provide local children with safe, quality child care programs and ensure we educate young minds early, when 90 percent of brain development occurs. Through a modest 0.5 percent sales tax, this measure will generate $140 million per year to enroll thousands of children in child care and preschool annually.
Ensuring that children have access to early education matters for all of us — for the student-parents on our campus who juggle the cost of their own tuition and child care, for the faculty and staff who need a safe place for their children while they work and help educate us, and even for us students who don’t know what lies ahead for our own family plans but do hope to be able to work and live in this region.
I worked at the Bright Horizons early childhood education program and was stunned by what I saw in these children. They were ready to start kindergarten and had so many resources at their fingertips. But sadly, only 44 percent of the county’s children enter kindergarten fully ready for school. And approximately 7,000 county children are waiting to enroll in an affordable, quality early education program.
While I love working with children and thought about pursuing a career in early childhood education to help fill the child care gap, that future doesn’t seem sustainable. I quickly learned and can see through my mom’s toil how low wages and a lack of benefits plague the child care workforce, which is dominated by women and people of color. There is little opportunity for advancement or better pay at this time, so the gender and racial disparities continue. According to research from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment here at UC Berkeley, 46 percent of child care workers and early educators are on some form of public assistance and oftentimes cannot even afford care for their own children.
Fortunately, Measure A seeks to help on this front, too. Funding will be used to attract and retain quality child care workers so they can afford to live and work here and keep building our next generation of responsible K-12 students, college graduates and citizens.
It’s become clear to me that improving and reforming early childhood education policies and programs is my calling. And I’m eager to use my education in legal studies and public policy to accomplish that in a career path after UC Berkeley.
For now, I’m working to help take action for local children in Alameda County so they can set off on a bright educational path and have the opportunity to attend college. I hope you’ll join me in urging your friends, family and colleagues to vote “yes” on Measure A.
Jade Togonon is a UC Berkeley junior studying legal studies and public policy.