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Child-Care Centers Struggling Under Restrictive Funding

September 07, 1986|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

Phyllis Levitt faces the same major dilemma each day she reports to work as executive director of Comprehensive Child Development Inc. in Long Beach.

"A sense of reality and proportion tells me to close," she says. But she can't bring herself to do it, she adds, because of the obvious community need she believes she is fulfilling.

At stake is a new program offered by her agency to offer much-in-demand after-school care for the children of working parents. The program is equipped to handle 76 children. Only 10 are enrolled. Yet 115 are on a waiting list with little hope of ever getting in.

The reason: new state legislation that funds public and nonprofit providers of after-school child care only if they are able to match each government-subsidized child with another who is paying full fare.

"Every day we operate, we go further into the hole," said Levitt, whose program for latchkey children opened in June. "We can't do that. I don't have a rich board of directors."

Caught in a Bind

Levitt's program is one of several in the Southeast/Long Beach area caught in a bind created by legislation that went into effect earlier this year that allots $15.2 million to public and nonprofit agencies throughout the state. Its purpose was to provide subsidized latchkey services for children of the working poor. But to spread the money around and affect a political compromise, legislators decreed that for each hour of state-subsidized care offered by a funded agency, the agency must also provide an hour of care fully paid for by its recipient, a task that some agencies are finding difficult.

Comprehensive Child Development, for instance--whose patrons traditionally have been low-income families--has been able to recruit only five paying customers for its fall latchkey program. So although the state has promised the agency $100,000 in scholarships for those unable to pay the $1.59 hourly fee, Levitt can only subsidize five children while the rest wait to be matched with children who can pay. And because an enrollment of 10 is insufficient to defray administrative costs, the program may have to ultimately turn down the money altogether and close its doors.

The Long Beach Unified School District, which was granted more than $130,000 by the state, has been able to fill only 90 of its 120 slots: 40 with full-paying customers and 50 with subsidized children. The program is proceeding with the unequal ratio, according to child development director Carl Martin, in hopes that over a year the number of paying and non-paying children will balance out. But if that doesn't happen, he said, the district will also consider closing its program.

And Bellflower Unified School District--which was allotted about $300,000 --has been able to balance the number of paying and non-paying students filling its 286 slots, but not the number of hours the children utilize. "Non-subsidized children tend to enroll for far fewer hours than the subsidized," said Maryann Suggs, the district's director of childhood education. As a result, she said, paying children in her program are served for only about three-fourths of the time that non-paying children are. "The theory is excellent," Suggs said of the state's matching requirement. "The problem is that in practice it isn't working out."

More Complaints Than Expected

Robert Cervantes, director of the state Department of Education's child development division, which is overseeing the latchkey funding, said the state has received many more complaints about the 50-50 matching requirement than were expected. "It's a statewide problem," he said. "A good many agencies around the state are having problems with the 50-50."

Of the 160 programs funded throughout California, he said, 35--nearly three times the number expected--have applied for waivers of the 50-50 requirement using an appeal process provided for by the legislation. Of the 35 requests, he said, six have already been granted.

"We want to be helpful and we know that situations change," Cervantes said, "but our concern is that there be a continued good-faith effort to meet the spirit of the legislation."

Among the waiver applications not yet acted on, he said, is one from Comprehensive Child Development and one from the Bellflower Unified School District.

To be sure, not all of the Southeast/Long Beach area's latchkey programs receiving state funds are having problems meeting the requirements imposed by the funding.

Customers Screened

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