SACRAMENTO — hough the state leads the nation in money spent on child care, California nonetheless is only providing centers for about 10% of the 1 million children of low-income, working parents eligible to receive such assistance, a Senate committee chairwoman said Wednesday.
The situation is little better for the 1.2 million children of working parents who can afford to pay for someone to watch their children, according to testimony given the state Senate panel.
"More than half of the children who need child care and whose parents can afford it have no place to go," said Sen. Becky Morgan (R-Los Altos Hills), who cited committee staff estimates and statistics provided by the state Department of Education.
While the state is spending about $400 million a year on child care, none of the witnesses would even estimate how much it would cost to meet the needs of low-income parents, let alone those who are more affluent.
A string of witnesses, including movie actress Lynn Redgrave, testified before the daylong hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Infant and Child Care Development, which was chaired by Morgan.
An impromptu debate between Redgrave and Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside) erupted at one point.
Redgrave testified about her difficulties six years ago when she tried to return to work at Universal Television for the series "House Calls" after she had a baby. She said she was fired by the studio when she insisted on wanting to have the baby nearby so she could breast-feed the child.
"I had my consciousness raised by this experience," Redgrave testified. "In the early part of this century, we (women) chained ourselves to railings to get the right to vote. We marched, and continue to march, for the ERA (proposed Equal Rights Amendment). So let us not waste any more time for the right to hold down a job and keep our children near us, where they belong."
Redgrave concluded her testimony by calling for more day-care sites at workplaces in the state.
Presley, a member of the Senate committee, praised Redgrave but told her he did not think that private companies should be forced to provide places for children of working mothers and fathers.
"We lay a lot of burdens on private employers," Presley said. "Babies need care. I don't know how much we can ask employers to absorb in this area. While it is a societal responsibility, I don't know if we can say it is an individual employer's responsibility."
Redgrave responded: "The benefits far outweigh the lack of benefits."
Presley said: "Then we can educate the employers so that they'll want to do it voluntarily."
Redgrave then interjected: "That is going to take so long. . . . Surely there is some incentive (the Legislature can pass) to make it feasible for (private companies to offer child day-care)."
Said Presley: "Right now, we have this tremendous trade imbalance, and a lot of it is because we (in the United States) require too much of private businesses. There are a lot of things we impose on employers. This would add to it."
"I'm saddened to hear it called an imposition," Redgrave said. "This is life itself."
Morgan, the committee chairwoman, told Redgrave that one possible solution is to provide state tax credits to private companies offering day care for working parents. She said she might introduce such legislation next year.
In an interview during a committee break, Morgan also said that another bill that might emerge from the committee hearing would be one to help private child-care facilities get affordable insurance.
According to the state Department of Education, insurance costs for private day-care sites have risen up to 700% in the last three years, largely because of controversies such as child-abuse charges raised against the McMartin Pre-School in Los Angeles County.
Morgan said her committee has found that some private day-care homes cannot obtain insurance, no matter what the cost.
California's child-care budget "rivals that of all other states combined," according to Deputy Supt. Bob Agee of the state Department of Education.
But despite the state's high level of funding, Morgan said, "child care is difficult to find, often unaffordable and, in many instances, of distressingly poor quality."