Oil tax? Wealth tax? Prop. 13 reform? Senate candidates debate how to pay for new programs for state's youngest residents | News | Almanac Online |


Oil tax? Wealth tax? Prop. 13 reform? Senate candidates debate how to pay for new programs for state's youngest residents

Candidates are vying in primary election to represent a half-million voters on Peninsula and coastside

State Senate candidates (from left) Josh Becker, Michael Brownrigg, Alex Glew, Sally Lieber, Shelly Masur and John Webster discuss their ideas for improving early childhood education in California on Feb. 9 in Menlo Park. Photo by Kate Bradshaw.

Taking the stage at Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park on Sunday, six of the seven candidates for the state Senate's 13th district weighed in on their plans for addressing the numerous early childhood education problems facing California.

Democrats Josh Becker, Mike Brownrigg, Sally Lieber and Shelly Masur, Republican Alex Glew and Libertarian John Webster took turns over the course of two hours debating how best to tackle a major shortage of teachers and facilities and how to pay for improved outcomes for the state's 3 million children under 5 years of age. Democratic candidate Annie Oliva was not present.

Most candidates acknowledged that there are significant problems with the current state of early childhood education in the region but had different ideas about how and what the government should fund to fix those problems.

One key problem in early childhood education, several candidates argued, is that early child care workers are so low-paid that in this high-cost area, there's a major shortage of providers and subsequently of child care spots.

Only one in nine children ages 0 to 3 who are qualified and eligible for subsidized care can

get it today, said Becker, an entrepreneur and nonprofit fund leader from Menlo Park.

"These teachers are only paid half of what kindergarten teachers are paid,” Becker said. "And preschool teachers are six times more likely to live in poverty than K-12 teachers — so we absolutely have to start with living wage."

Regarding special education, he added, he'd push for a statewide systematic screening program to help schools identify students in need of additional services earlier.

And how to fund such new investments? Becker suggested that California create an oil extraction tax and dedicate a large percent — or perhaps all — of its proceeds to early childhood education.

Brownrigg, a Burlingame City Council member who is a former diplomat and venture capitalist, said he agrees about the oil extraction tax as a potential short-term source of capital, along with Proposition 13 reform and exploring reductions to the prison budget to come up with the $6 billion to $9 billion he estimates that early childhood programs would cost.

He added that about 60% of early childhood educators are on public assistance, an indicator that they're not being paid enough. Increasing pay for teachers and care providers for young children would also entice more people to work in the field, he added.

Preschool facilities need to be built; teachers need better pay; families in poverty need ways to get to and from preschool; and investments need to be made in pre- and post-natal care, nutrition and education, he said.

"It's not complicated; it's just expensive," Brownrigg said.

"There's no doubt about the research," he said. "We have an achievement gap because we have a kindergarten gap. If we can fix the kindergarten gap — if we can help kids be ready to learn when they go through that door, we're going to have a dramatic impact on graduation rates and achievement."

The real question, he said, becomes: "Who's going to fight for budget best? Who's going to get the dollars into the sector that we know we need?"

He talked about his track record with overcoming funding problems as a council member during the recession. And he pointed to the fact that Oklahoma has offered universal pre-kindergarten to 4-year-olds in that state since 1998.

"Why can't California have that?" he asked.

To make child care facilities more readily available, he added, new developments should be required to make allowances for child care centers, instead of retail, in new mixed-use buildings.

Masur, a City Council member in Redwood City, former school board member and education nonprofit leader, said she supports the unionization of child care workers and wants to see higher pay for early childhood teachers living in higher-cost areas, in addition to K-12 teachers. If elected, she said, she'd convene a roundtable with health care providers and workforce experts to look into how to improve health care access for early childhood care providers and teachers.

"I've been a fighter for public education, first as a parent in a low-income school, then later serving 10 years on the Redwood City School Board," Masur said.

While on the council, she added, she's been working on a task force that's prioritized expanding child care facilities throughout San Mateo County. The city has also created a child care locator map and has suggested developing a navigator program to help working families explore their child care options.

She also supports expanding state preschool to offer full-day programs to better accommodate working families.

To pay for it, some funding might come from a proposed ballot initiative, the California Tax on Commercial and Industrial Properties for Education and Local Government Funding Initiative, to close a corporate property tax loophole, estimated to generate about $12 billion annually in additional property taxes statewide if approved, she said.

Glew, an engineer and a Los Altos design review commissioner, expressed significant skepticism toward government-run day care programs.

"I wouldn't trust the government with my dog. I'm not sure I would with a 2-year-old," he said. "We need to be very careful about what we put in place."

Glew suggested private co-op models instead, and emphasized his belief that public funds be used wisely.

"The question isn't 'Is childhood education good?' The question is 'What childhood education is best, (and) what can we afford?’ There are numerous studies throughout the literature, and we need to make good choices because every dollar we spend incorrectly on this is a dollar not spent on something else."

He suggested that the state could start by looking at improvements to Head Start, a federally funded early childhood school-readiness program, and making sure those dedicated federal funds reach the district.

"We pay a lot of taxes to the feds. They should give some back," he said.

Lieber, a former state assemblywoman from Mountain View who has talked during her campaign about her efforts to provide political support to disenfranchised communities, said at the debate: "Children are the ultimate 'little guy' in the process. They don't vote. They don't have money to give to politicians. They don't have a voice in the process. And it's up to caring and determined adults to protect their life chances and their future."

One potential funding source, she said, could be a wealth tax on the unearned income of California's billionaires.

She added that she'd be interested in looking at the programs that support children and families at the federal poverty level, such as housing, food support, diaper support or parental education, along with "dealing with the impact of racism on families in our communities." She added that she'd like to see San Mateo County become a more competitive county for state demonstration projects.

She also talked about the need for more health care facilities for infants and toddlers as well as crisis nurseries, or facilities open 24/7 to offer child care to children from infancy to age 5 during family emergencies. There's only one in the Bay Area, located in Concord. Such facilities should be available to all who need them, she said.

"For working families that are already on the ropes financially, a child's illness can really knock them out of being able to make it through the month," she said.

Webster, a software engineer from Mountain View, took an opposing view from the other candidates, saying that he said he doesn't believe the government should be involved in education at all, except to ensure that teacher training programs offer an early childhood education component.

"All education, including early childhood education, should be financed by tuition through loans and not through taxing the productive and the wealthy," he said.

The problems

The forum was moderated by education experts and advocates Ted Lempert and Deborah Stipek. Lempert is the president of Children Now, a national research and advocacy nonprofit, and the founding CEO of EdVoice, an education reform organization in California.

He also served in the state Assembly from 1988 to 1992 and 1996 to 2000, and previously served on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

Stipek is a professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Education, an education policy leader and the current chair of the Heising-Simons Development and Research on Early Math Education Network.

"We rank 39th (among U.S. states) in quality preschool programs," Lempert said. "This is the issue of our time: ensuring that kids are well-educated."

He added that while there are a growing number of leaders in Sacramento who understand the problems related to early childhood education, "There's a difference between getting the issue and making it the priority."

According to Stipek, California's education gap compared with other states' is significant, and starts early.

"Already, by kindergarten entry, children from low-income homes are a year to a year and a half behind their middle-class and more affluent peers," she told the audience. "So if we're going to address the achievement gap in California, we have to invest in opportunities for young children."

She added that in her work, she's identified many areas that need "a lot of work," including: improving access to affordable child care and learning programs that meet the needs of working parents, including those with nonstandard working hours; expanding the early childhood education teacher pipeline; addressing facility shortages; improving screening and support for kids with special needs; and improving the quality of early childhood programs overall, with a particular emphasis on special education.

"My concern is that if we expand access without increasing quality, we may end up disappointed by the results, and I don't want anybody saying eight years from now, 'Gee, we tried it out. We invested in young children and it didn't work, so let's do something else,'" Stipek said.

California has not only 3 million children from newborn to age 5, but the largest number of children living in poverty in the U.S., according to a flyer published by the event organizers, which included a number of education and early childhood advocacy organizations.

In addition, Lempert said, citing the U.S. Census Bureau, children under 5 are the age group most likely to experience homelessness.

Yet 85% of brain development occurs between infancy and age 5, and research indicates that every dollar invested in high-quality early care and education can save taxpayers $13 in future costs. Such investment is reported to boost student grades, graduation rates, college attendance and career success, while lowering the high school drop-out rate, criminal behavior, teen pregnancy and the need for special education services.

The local economy has worsened high turnover rates among early childhood educators and child care providers. One analysis estimates that in San Mateo County alone, by 2025, there will be a shortage of 2,500 preschool teachers and 14,000 child care slots.

In concluding the event, organizers asked the candidates if they would commit to four actions: to assign a legislative assistant to work on the issue; to visit two early learning centers; to visit a workforce development program addressing the shortage of early childhood care providers; and to answer questions for San Mateo and Santa Clara counties' city councils addressing these issues. All of the candidates except Webster committed to all four provisions.

Event co-sponsors included the Community Equity Collaborative, Congregation Beth-Am, League of Women Voters, Good2Know Network, the Santa Clara County Office of Education, Foothill College, Peninsula Family Service, Footsteps Child Care, First 5 San Mateo County and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Additional information and resources are posted here.

State Senate District 13 includes the area from South San Francisco to Sunnyvale and along the coast from north of Pacifica to Año Nuevo State Park. The top two candidates in the primaries, to be held March 3, will move forward to the November general election.

Because both San Mateo and Santa Clara counties send all registered voters their ballots by mail, many voters have likely already received their ballots and may submit them in advance of March 3.

More information about how to vote in San Mateo County is posted here and in Santa Clara County here.

Related content:

Senate candidates clash over housing policies, PG&E's future at Palo Alto forum

• Read our profiles of each candidate and watch videotaped interviews with six of the seven contenders, on our Atavist page.


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Former Almanac reporter Kate Bradshaw writes for the Mountain View Voice, The Almanac's sister publication.

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7 people like this
Posted by Kevin D
a resident of Woodside: other
on Feb 11, 2020 at 2:40 pm

Not surprising Annie Oliva didn't show up. Her agenda is simple - whatever the Real Estate Industry wants - that's her agenda. Bought and paid for by the Real Estate Industry. Here's a sample of her contributors - these are just the individual contributions.:

Woodmont Ventures: $2000

Coldwell Banker: $6350

Compass Realty: $5600

Berkshire Hathaway: $2100

Essex Properties: $1000

Marshall Realty: $4978

OMarshall Realty: $17,200

ReMax: $2888

Realty World: $5215

CAL Real Estate PAC: $9300

Rebpublic Holding Company: $14100

Britton & Co.: $2000

John Prouty (Real East Agent): $7000

Penna Realty: $1250

George and Judy Marcus (founder, Essex Realty): $17,100

CA Assoc. of Mortgage Professionals: $1000

Carstens Realty: $4700

D&C Lee Management: $3450

Welch Family Partnership: $4700

West Coast Mobile Home Parks: $1000

East Bay Assisted Living: $9400

Worthington Capital: $2500

Lehr Real Estate: $1000

Hill Garden Apartments: $1000

Supreme Lending: $600

Kenny Realty: $750

8 people like this
Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 11, 2020 at 8:37 pm

Well, let’s look at who is in the pockets of the unions next and will obviously bend over backwards for them.....,

27 people like this
Posted by tax cuts for the wealthy
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 12, 2020 at 6:20 am

The last 20 years have been all about tax cuts for the rich. How about that massive cap gains tax under Bush? Go further - how about the massive property tax cuts for large landowners, they ones collecting rent for thousands of units or the large commercial landowners?

Time for them to pay for the infrastructure that they and their companies use.

10 people like this
Posted by Silent Californian
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 12, 2020 at 5:27 pm

Go John Webster! It's such a breath of fresh air to see someone taking a stand against the wild, unprincipled growth of Californian government power.

He's right. Government isn't here to ban the bad and enforce the good—that's the thinking that gets us the nanny state we live in today, and it's a total blank-out of the fact that whatever government does, it does at the point of a gun, with threat of force. The government's legitimate scope is to protect our natural rights—to our lives, to freedom of action, and to our property. Providing an education—or health care, or a job, home, or food— isn't within that scope.

Leave it to free individuals to decide how to educate themselves—including how best to pay for it. We care about our kids. This isn't a problem that requires the use of force to solve.

22 people like this
Posted by Cultists On The Loose Again
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2020 at 5:54 pm

Oh dear -- someone actually *wants* to live in Thomas Hobbes' state of man in nature.

Guess what, sport? I hear that Somalia would be perfect for you. You know, no pesky government to get in the way of any and all of your desires...

6 people like this
Posted by Silent Californian
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 12, 2020 at 6:24 pm

To "Cultists On the Loose Again":

You must be confused. I can't speak for John Webster, but I'm not an anarchist. The government certainly has a legitimate and irreplaceable role: to protect individual rights and remove the threat of physical force from interactions between people. Nothing more, and nothing less. Society without that kind of government would be even more tribal and thug-like than even the Democrats and Republicans both are today.

I can understand the confusion though. These days anyone who has a principled understanding of what the government's role is—rather than wielding the government as a weapon against those they disagree with—certainly must seem like an anarchist by comparison.

20 people like this
Posted by Cultists On The Loose Again
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2020 at 6:29 pm

Nice try, sport. But in actuality, you *ARE* an anarchist. No one with a rational frame of mind advocates for anything like what you propose here.

Try reading up on what government is meant to accomplish, instead of the intellectual sludge you seem to have consumed all this time.

5 people like this
Posted by Silent Californian
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 12, 2020 at 6:40 pm

To "Cultists On The Loose Again:"

You might try understanding those you disagree with before attacking them. I'm a constitutional attorney with 20 prior years of teaching political philosophy. I'm pretty well aware of our government is meant to accomplish—and what it's actually permitted, by law, to "accomplish." It's a lot narrower than you probably think, "sport."

For those actually interested in a principled understanding of these issues, stop reading comments on the Internet and try reading a book like this: Web Link

20 people like this
Posted by Cultists On The Loose Again
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2020 at 6:46 pm

1) A constitutional attorney with 20 years' experience? Yeah, right.

2) C. Bradley Thompson? Seriously? If that is what you consider worthy reading, you are a truly sorry specimen.

10 people like this
Posted by tax cuts for the wealthy
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 12, 2020 at 7:02 pm

ahhhh, the Cato boys are popping back up. Funny how a TRILLION dollar tax cut for billionaires and corporations isn't enough for libertarians, eh?

Large landowners paying 70's era property tax bills in 2020 is just your cup of tea. Y'all like free markets - how can a new company compete when the buy land and have a massive tax bill compared to the company next door which pays virtually nothing because they've sat on it for 40 years?

Rigged system. Unfair playing field. Corporate welfare that keeps small companies for growing. Libertarian ideals?

Repeal the corporate loopholes in Prop 13. Leave the residential alone.

23 people like this
Posted by LottieDa
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 14, 2020 at 9:52 am

i was there and Webster and Glew were out of their league when it came to the reality of early childhood education. Young children are our some of our most vulnerable citizens, they have no power. In a libertarian system their needs for quality early education would be nonexistent unless their families had tons of money. What does Webster think would become of those young children as they grow older without that foundation? And Glew plans for permits and education of early childhood educators was laughable and showed he had no idea what it takes to be an educator of young children. The other three candidates had ideas were rooted in reality and showed they had done their homework on the topic. As a preschool teacher I am thankful to have had a chance to hear the candidates speak on the topic I’ve made my life’s work.

7 people like this
Posted by Cultists On The Loose Again
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2020 at 12:35 pm

@LottieDa -- If you read about John Webster's views on child pornography, you would know what sort of future he has in mind for today's children (that view being reinforced for what he was accused of saying when he was arrested in 1990...)

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