An overwhelming number of voters want local officials to invest in early childhood education, according to a poll released Tuesday by a pair of Los Angeles County advocacy groups.
The online poll of 843 likely voters conducted during the last week of August found that 82% of the local population considers access to child care “essential” to economic recovery. Sponsored by the nonprofit UNITE-LA and the LA Partnership for Early Childhood Investment, the poll also found that 68% of respondents perceived access to early learning and child care for young children as a social justice issue.
“In order to reopen our economy and do it safely, it is critical that our elected officials and our community leaders understand how important it is to include child care in any recovery plan,” said Sonia Campos-Rivera, vice president for policy and public affairs at UNITE-LA.
The August survey included likely voters from across the county, including many residents in two areas facing significant local races in the general election on Nov. 3. In Los Angeles County’s second supervisorial district, state Sen. Holly Mitchell is facing off against Los Angeles City Councilmember Herb Wesson. And in the election for the Los Angeles Unified School Board seat representing South Los Angeles, Patricia Castellanos, an economic development deputy for county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, is running against education advocate Tanya Ortiz Franklin.
In a news conference Tuesday, advocates speaking to reporters by video conference said local officials will be counted on to help the economy rebound, by helping establish more capacity for the children of parents returning from shelter-in-place orders to the workplace.
Across the state, financial losses and costly new safety precautions have forced about 9,300 child care providers to close, about a quarter of California’s total. About 1,200 of those closures are permanent, according to reporting from the Los Angeles Times.
The August survey suggests that 80% of likely voters are in favor of new investments in child care and early childhood education.
Access to child care in Los Angeles County has been uneven and lacking, well before the pandemic. According to a recent report from First 5 LA, there are nearly 700,000 children from birth through age 5 in Los Angeles County, the majority from low-income communities of color. Yet in 2018 and 2019, just 7.5% of those children attended a quality early childhood education program, which are those proven to be most successful at bridging educational gaps. Only about a quarter of eligible children were enrolled in a publicly funded early childhood education program.
According to the poll, conducted by the firm SocialQuest, 76% of respondents agreed with the idea that free, high-quality early childhood learning programs can help close the achievement gap for Latino and African American children.
Campos-Rivera of UNITE-LA – a group that had until recently served as the nonprofit arm of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce – said early childhood education disparities were especially stark in parts of South Los Angeles, areas where the high-profile races for supervisor and school board are being held.
For example, prior to the pandemic, there were just 27 licensed child care centers open in Watts – a neighborhood of South Los Angeles. In that area, 2,366 children, or 97% of all kids aged 2 and younger lacked access to a slot in a quality early education program, Campos-Rivera said.
Parker Blackman, executive director of the LA Partnership for Early Childhood Investment, said the safety net comprising the county’s child care and early education system has frayed for vulnerable families in recent months.
“The dual crises of COVID and the economic disaster that has ensued – it really shines a bright light on the inequity and vulnerability that many of us already knew existed,” Blackman said.