As California Gov. Gavin Newsom prepares to unveil his 2021-22 budget proposal later this week, more than 1,000 organizations have urged policymakers to make children — especially the reopening of public schools — the state’s “all-hands-on-deck” spending priority.
Even before the pandemic struck last winter, the well-being of California’s children was not a budget priority, the organizations said in a letter to policymakers sent Tuesday. “Now the situation is mission critical. 2021 is the year to make a long-overdue, significant shift in state priorities to put children first and ensure our collective future,” it stated.
Policymakers, as always, must deal with fierce competition for every available dollar as the governor and lawmakers try to pass a budget by June 30.
Although the California economy took a huge hit when the coronavirus health measures took effect in the spring, the budget picture isn’t as dire as many feared; many tech companies thrived amid the pandemic and drove a stock market that poured an unanticipated $26 billion into the state’s bank account.
But that’s one-time money, and policymakers will also be pressured not to spend it on ongoing needs that it won’t be able to support in future budgets.
Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, which coordinated the letter, said in a statement that the organization understands that there’s a lot of competition. Even as the letter arrived, the governor announced he planned to propose hundreds of millions of dollars to support small businesses and other economic recovery efforts.
“But the needs of kids,” Lempert said, “ranging from child care and preschool, family and economic supports, health and mental health care, K-12 and higher education, housing, and child welfare supports, must come first.”
COVID-19 has been especially tough on children of color and those living in poverty. As a result, they face even greater economic, social and mental stress, not to mention deep, prolonged learning loss, the letter states. Besides, even though California’s economy would stand near the top among all nations if it were a country, it “unfathomably” ranks near the bottom of all American states in most measures of child well-being.
Newsom has already signaled his support for reopening schools. He said he plans to spend $2 billion from the unexpected revenue windfall as an incentive to school districts that open up in February. Normally that money would have to wait until lawmakers approve the budget in July, or even later. The letter urges Newsom and the state to do even more for its children.