Mayor Robert GarciaQuality child care and preschool are out of reach for too many families living throughout L.A. County and Long Beach.

According to a new report by the Los Angeles County Child Care Planning Committee, the Los Angeles County Office for the Advancement of Early Care and Education (formerly known as the Los Angeles County Office of Child Care) and First 5 LA, The State of Early Care and Education in Los Angeles County, licensed child care centers and family care homes only have the capacity to serve 13 percent of working parents with infants and toddlers.

Today, more than ever, we understand the importance of quality early care and preschool for children zero to five years old. We know quality care puts our children on the path for success in school and life. Studies show that children who have quality care in these crucial first years are 50 percent more likely to attend college and 18 percent more likely to be employed. They are also less likely to be incarcerated. Every dollar spent today on early education is an investment that will see returns for generations to come.

That’s why, in my tenure as mayor, I’ve worked to expand quality childcare and preschool in Long Beach for our most vulnerable families. In January, I supported the launch of the Mayor’s Fund for Education, a nonprofit that will help raise funds to supplement education programs in Long Beach. It will support private centers throughout Long Beach and public preschool centers at LBUSD, CSULB and Long Beach City College, as well as the future Long Beach Educare Center, set to open in 2018.

In addition to the establishment of the Mayor’s Fund for Education, the City has also added two new positions: an Early Childhood Education Coordinator and an Early Childhood Education Specialist. The Mayor’s Fund and these two new specialists will work together to ensure education partners in Long Beach have the support from both the City and civic stakeholders that are needed to make a meaningful, transformative impact for our most at-risk families. To that end, we will create a City-wide Early Childhood Education Community Plan, which will employ a citywide systems approach to provide nurturing and enriching environments for young children of Long Beach and the surrounding area.

We’ve also built a diverse collaboration of partners including teachers, caregivers, child welfare advocates, business leaders and philanthropic organizations that work together to address the needs of our young children. We will continue to utilize this collective of partners to meet the ever-changing and most-pressing needs of our youngest students and to help ensure that families have the tools they need to bring classroom learning into the home.

While we are making progress here in Long Beach, we look to partner with policymakers in the County and Sacramento to make critical investments in early childhood care and education in 2017. California cut more than $1 billion in early education funding during the recession, eliminating more than 100,000 child care and preschool spots. State funding for early care and education is still 20 percent below pre-2008 recession levels. My hope is that our state will address this shortfall in 2017.

As a teacher myself, I sincerely believe that education is the best investment government can make. It’s the best way to keep our economy strong, keep our communities safe and bring opportunity to all.

Early childhood education and quality child care is vital to the ongoing economic vibrancy of our city. It is only through such investment that our children can pursue their dreams and reach their full potential.

Dr. Robert Garcia is an educator and the 28th mayor of Long Beach. Mayor Garcia has taken a leadership role in economic development, sustainability, education and investing in technology. Mayor Garcia, a college and university professor, holds a Master’s Degree from University of Southern California and a Doctorate in Higher Education from Cal State Long Beach, where he also earned his Bachelor’s in Communication. On March 20, Mayor Garcia will be a featured speaker at an event at the California Endowment, Elevating the Voices of Children: The State of Early Care and Education in Los Angeles County.

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Stephanie Rivera

Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.