Study reveals child care accessibility, quality discrepancy by location

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A recent study conducted by researchers from the American Institutes for Research, or AIR, and UC Berkeley revealed that a large percentage of California parents face challenges in accessing child care and that preschool enrollment dropped in certain areas.

Authored principally by AIR researcher Karen Manship, education writer Linda Jacobson and campus Graduate School of Education professor Bruce Fuller, the study, called “Achieving Fair Access to Early Education,” focused on enrollment rates at California preschools and child care programs, which researchers have deemed important in children’s development, according to the report.

“Quality preschool can advance early learning and children’s social development, especially for children in poverty,” Manship said in an email.

One of the study’s most significant findings was that the quality and concentration of child care and preschool programs varies “sharply” by location.

“More affluent counties like San Francisco have higher enrollment rates, which is not surprising given that they have dedicated local funds to supplement state funds to provide more slots,” Manship said in an email. “Some less affluent counties cannot afford to invest large amounts of local funds for this purpose.”

In the study, the authors suggested that the state consider ways to make pre-K funding more flexible, rather than basing funding on county lines, or provide technical assistance and fund new slots to improve the capacity for child care in counties where child populations are expected to grow.

Another one of the study’s significant findings is that only one out of every eight California families with an infant or toddler can find a licensed child care center. Franca Cioria, director of Berkeley preschool Via Nova Children’s School, identified a lack of accessible infant care as the key issue raised by the study.

“(There are) not enough (programs) for infant toddlers, (but) an excess for 4 years old, from my own anecdotal evidence in enrolling families in our program,” Cioria said. “One important factor that I am not sure is included (in the study) is that in private preschool programs, 3- to 4-years-old classes subsidize the infant toddler classes since the actual cost would be too high for a family to meet.”

While Berkeley and some other cities have many preschools, other areas lack such educational opportunities. For example, 3-year-olds in San Joaquin County are only enrolled in preschool at a rate of 25 percent, a rate less than half that of neighboring San Francisco, where the enrollment sits at 53 percent, according to the study.

This lack of access could be detrimental to California’s students, according to campus psychology professor Fei Xu.

“Preschool provides valuable experiences for children to get them ready for school,” Xu said. “Preschools may help children develop their cognitive and social skills.”

Contact Alexandra Reinecke at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @arhine9.