A proposal by Gov. Pete Wilson to add nearly $300 million to the state's child care system was greeted Tuesday with optimism--and a twinge of concern--by Orange County child care advocates and officials.
"We are just excited that there is finally recognition of the importance of quality child care services in relationship to a family achieving self-sufficiency," said Ellin Chariton, child care manager for the Orange County Department of Education, which runs the county's child care program for low-income families.
Orange County has an estimated 30,000 children who will need subsidized day care when the new welfare rules kick in next year, pushing people off welfare and onto job rolls. At an annual cost per child of $5,760, the county could have to spend nearly $173 million.
Wilson's plan for child care funding was announced Monday as part of a $440-million package financed by an unexpected budget windfall the state is enjoying because of a surging economy.
However, child care advocates such as Chariton expressed concern about the governor's definition of surplus funds and whether they will continue flowing to counties, which is vital to maintaining state-funded programs. She said that tax money spent on child care has a good investment return.
Studies have shown, Chariton said, that for every dollar spent on child care and early childhood education, there is a benefit of more than $7.
"What that means," Chariton said, "is for every dollar spent, there is a reduced cost in at-risk services for young children, as well as having a family in the working labor force and off the tax rolls. To me, that is a tremendous benefit."
Nancy Noble, Orange County Child Care Planning Council chairwoman, said she breathed a sigh of relief when she heard about the governor's proposal, citing the demand in Orange County for child care.
"I was very pleased that his statement included the word, 'quality,' " Noble said. "It means that the state is not interested in custodian-type care, but an awareness that the care will contribute to the maximum potential of the child."
Within the county, there are more than 9,000 children on the waiting list for subsidized child care services, which includes the working poor, Chariton said.