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Advocates Give California Early Learning a C-Minus

On December 20, the California advocacy group Children Now, released its 2011 report card , which graded 11 aspects of children's health, safety and learning across the state. The report also included an action agenda of 10 items Children Now hopes lawmakers will address in the new year. The highest grade awarded was a B-plus for the state's after-school programming. By contrast, early learning received their average grade, a C-minus.

Children Now reports that California's licensed child care centers are only inspected once every five years, while other states inspect annually. Affordability of care is also a challenge. According to the report, California is the fifth-least affordable state for licensed child care, with licensed home-based care for an infant costing an average of more than $7,000 per year and center care for infants costing an average of more than $11,000. For a preschool, the average cost of licensed center-based care was more than $8,000 annually.

To address these and other problems, the report recommends a major revamping of the state's education formula: dismantling current categorical funding streams and setting a base per-student amount above the current state average of district per-pupil spending, then adding resources for early education on top of the base. The report also recommends revisiting the current structure of the state's licensing department and allowing local agencies to conduct licensing reviews and site visits.

Other recommendations include developing an early-learning data system that would feed into K-12 student data and piloting a Quality Rating Improvement System, or QRIS, statewide. (Last week I spoke with Catherine Atkin, executive director of Preschool California, who says a state committee will release a report on California's emerging QRIS efforts early in the new year.)

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