California Candidates for Governor Share Ideas on Children’s Issues

Candidates John Chiang, Delaine Eastin and Antonio Villaraigosa at Tuesday night’s forum. Moderators included The Chronicle’s Daniel Heimpel, Shimica Gaskins of Children’s Defense Fund-California and Mayra Alvarez of the Children’s Partnership. Photo credit: Bryan Curiel

California gubernatorial candidates John Chiang (D), Delaine Eastin (D) and Antonio Villaraigosa (D) headlined a forum last night dedicated to the issues facing the state’s most vulnerable children and families.

Before an estimated crowd of 600 in Los Angeles, the candidates offered their views on the state’s foster care and juvenile justice systems and also tackled other issues, such as child poverty, educational equity, children’s health and children’s access to technology.

Leading candidate Gavin Newsom (D) declined to participate, along with invited Republican candidates John Cox and Travis Allen.

Education proved to be a recurring discussion point, particularly current Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) initiative. LCFF allows the state to send more money to school districts with high numbers of low-income students, foster youth and English language learners.

But Villaraigosa argued that the extra funds under LCFF haven’t always ended up impacting the three targeted groups.

“The problem with it is that they’re spreading money like peanut butter,” Villaraigosa said. “Here in L.A. Unified and in other places, the money didn’t go to the kid, it went to the whole school district.”

Candidate Antonio Villaraigosa answers questions from youth reporters from the Boyle Heights Beat before the event.

Chiang, an avowed supporter of LCFF, called that California wants to see more accountability of school principals, particularly in how they work with parents.

“We know the number one factor [for success] outside the classroom is parental involvement,” Chiang said.

Eastin characterized the amount of money allocated under LCFF as “still inadequate.”

“The elephant in the room is the lack of school funding,” Eastin said. “They’re rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

She said that the state should boost education spending while limiting the amount of money allocated to prisons. Earlier this year, Gov. Brown said that the state now spends $12 billion a year on prisons, 9 percent of the general fund of its budget, three times what it spent in 1970.

“We just can’t afford to have Cadillac prisons and jalopy schools,” Eastin said.

When it comes to addressing child maltreatment, Villaraigosa said he would expand a program that he developed in Los Angeles while serving as mayor. The Domestic Abuse Response Team program pairs Los Angeles Police Department officers with social workers in domestic violence crisis situations.

That issue is personal for Villaraigosa, who has said he grew up in an abusive home.

“I know what domestic violence and what child abuse can do to a young person,” Villaraigosa said. “It’s a scar that stays with you for the rest of your life.”

Former California State Superintendent Eastin said she would make implementing the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) a priority from the start of her administration. ESSA mandates that every foster child be given appropriate transpiration to their school of origin, if necessary.

“The very first week I’m in office, we will convene a meeting with the top leadership of education from around the state and we will absolutely put together a plan that says every single solitary child in foster care needs to be given that support getting to school,” she said.

Chiang indicated that he might consider making larger investments in the state’s pending child welfare reforms — the Continuum of Care Reform. The state is banking on using cost savings realized by less frequent utilization of congregate care to better support children in the homes of caregivers.

“If you look at the budget numbers that the governor pushed out yesterday, we haven’t recognized those particular savings,” Chiang said. “We have to go back and make sure that we make those appropriate investments with the families, to make sure that families are getting the education, they’re getting the training  so that they can address the full-range of academic and social needs for each particular [foster] student.”

Attendees at the forum. Photo credit: Bryan Curiel

Sponsored by The Chronicle of Social Change, the Children’s Defense Fund-California, and the Children’s Partnership, the event was held at Los Angeles Trade Technical College three weeks before the June 5 primary. The top two finishers in that contest will move on to the general election in November. Media partners for the event included the Los Angeles Daily News and L.A. School Report.

You can watch a video recording of the event here.

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