Families and educators from the Walnut Avenue Women's Center gather in front of downtown Santa Cruz clock tower to protest proposed cuts to childcare. Photo by Nallely Ruiz.

With the state budget deadline rapidly approaching, families, teachers and organizers from the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center (WAWC) and other local daycare centers rallied May 5 to save state-funded childcare from the chopping block.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, if passed by California legislators this June, would limit funding for childcare programs and restructure their management from state to county control.

Under new eligibility requirements, parents would have to work at least 30 hours weekly and have legal residency to qualify for subsidies, barring many who currently receive aid. Parents who are full-time students, disabled and unemployed workers, and undocumented immigrants would all have difficulty meeting this requirement.

“A lot of our families will no longer be able to receive childcare, either from us or other areas and other state-funded daycare centers, which means that they’re not going to be able to go to school and they’re not going to be able to work,” said Stephanie Tam Rosas, a family advocate of the Family Literacy program at the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center. “That’s going to have huge effects on their lifestyle.”

About 25 organizers, teachers, parents and children from WAWC and other local childcare centers gathered at the courthouse on Saturday. They marched to the clock tower at the end of Pacific Avenue, holding signs and chanting their concerns as passing drivers honked their horns in support.

The state faces a $9.2 billion deficit, according to the California Budget Project. Governor Brown’s budget proposal slashes resources for the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS) program by $946.2 million.

Just over half of the cuts would be made to childcare programs. CalWORKS provides grants to 1.1 million low-income children and employment resources for parents, and the new cuts would terminate aid for an estimated 62,000 children and reduce cash available for hundreds of thousands of others.

“We’re an easy target,” said Cathy Lusk, the WAWC’s Early Education Center director. “Not everyone gets why early education is so important.”

Lusk emphasized the importance of teaching reading, as well as social and emotional skills, early on. Not teaching these skills, she said, leaves children ill-equipped for leading productive lives and ultimately creates more liabilities for society to deal with.

“Taking care of children in general is difficult enough,” said Kai Chen, a WAWC teacher who works with toddlers. “Essentially, we’re instilling an early love for learning. It’s our job to provide a way for them to understand the world around them.”

Raquel Vega, who helped to organize the rally, is a Cabrillo College student hoping to study scientific illustration in graduate school. Her daughter receives subsidized childcare, which Vega calls a “lifesaver.”

Because Vega does not work, she would not be eligible for aid after realignment. Without family in the area, she said, she would have to drop out of school to supervise her daughter.

“I don’t want to be forced to stay home,” she said. “I want to take care of my child and I want to build a future for us.”

Kristin Hummel, a UCSC psychology student whose daughter attends preschool on campus, went to the rally to spread awareness about the budget cuts’ effects.

“I can’t imagine trying to get through school, a single parent with a 30-hour work week, trying to be a full time student,” she said. “That’s just impossible.”

WAWC has endured years of dwindling funding, relying on the sacrifice and goodwill of its teachers and volunteers to keep its doors open.

Volunteers provide about 80 percent of the center’s direct services, said Cita Rasul, WAWC’s fundraising and outreach coordinator.

“We’re fortunate that we live in a great area and have a
community that does as much as they can,” she said. “Most of our employees are working for far less than they’re worth. It’s shameful to see where our state’s priorities in funding are.”

Lusk echoed Rasul’s sentiment.

“If it weren’t for the wonderful teachers we have who are willing to do these things and not get the wages they should receive, and not have the hours they should receive, then we would have had to close,” Lusk said. “We’re not at the tipping point, but we’re getting close.”

As the June 15 budget deadline approaches, WAWC and other concerned state residents will continue to write letters, collect signatures for petitions and call state legislators to repeal the cuts.