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State-supported child care and education topped the list of budget priorities the California Legislative Women's Caucus laid out on Tuesday.

The emphasis on more programs for California's youngest residents offered the latest evidence that early education will be a priority for Democrats, and potentially a key sticking point as they try to break through Gov. Jerry Brown's reluctance to aggressively spend a budget surplus.

"As our economy rebounds, we cannot leave women and families behind," said Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach. "The evidence is clear. Access to quality early childhood education contributes to children's well-being, brain development and school readiness."

Those remarks echoed Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, focusing on universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds. The Democratic leader has made clear he believes investing more in early education programs is a crucial tool to bridge school achievement gaps.

Members of the women's caucus said they back Steinberg's proposal. But a letter they circulated to legislative leadership and the governor took aim more specifically at a range of state-sponsored childcare and preschool programs to support low-income Californians who are working or seeking employment, many of them single mothers.

"We've had conversations about pre-school, about transitional kindergarten," said Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton. "But when we look at the family in the holistic model we know it's those investments from the time they're born."

Among the budget spending they are urging: $300 million to fund 40,000 new early care slots to reverse recession-fueled cutbacks, increased reimbursement rates for providers and broader access to state preschool programs.

PHOTO: Members of the California Legislative Women's Caucus discuss their budget priorities at the State Capitol on May 20, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White.



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