On Friday, amid warning that thousands of California children may fail to meet tough new education standards, Assembly Majority Whip Wilma Chan called for major changes in early education and health services for children.
Chan, D-Oakland and Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on California Children'’s School Readiness and Health partnered with Stuart Richardson, Healthy Start coordinator at Fruitvale Elementary School in Oakland and Nancy Waltz, president of the San Juan Teachers Association at the Friday press conference.
The three described challenges teachers face in the classroom when children come to school without proper preparation and health care they need to succeed. They also detailed collateral problems to inadequate health care such as repeat tardiness and absence.
The Preparing Our Children to Learn report and legislative recommendations grew out of hearings held last fall and early this winter in Sacramento, Oakland, Los Angeles and Salinas - the first hearings ever convened to look at how a child's health status affects their ability to do well in school.
Many of the recommendations have since been translated into proposed legislation.
• Requiring that HMOs cover the cost of expectant mothers' visit to a pediatrician before the baby is born so that they can help the baby in his/her first months.
• Requiring HMOs to cover the cost of dental sealants to reduce dental decay.
• Expanding mandatory vision screening for children entering school to include all vision impairments and requiring dental exams when children enter pre-school.
• Expanding dental insurance to low income working families whom may have general health insurance from work, but lack dental coverage.
• Requiring that counties, Children and Families Commissions and mental health providers work collaboratively to increase mental health services and maximize utilization of existing (but not spent) funds for mental health services to young children.
• Increasing training for teachers and child care providers so they can better help young children transition from home, to pre-school, to kindergarten.
•Increasing training to help teachers and child care providers recognize and refer children who are in need of physical, nutritional or mental health services.
• Reducing malnutrition and obesity by requiring schools to offer nutrition classes.
• Developing 'one stop' family resource centers at school and health sites to provide family-friendly, coordinated health, education and social services assistance to families.
• Bringing together state children's services, currently scattered between numerous agencies, programs and departments into a single Department of Children's Services, modeled after the Department of Aging and Long Term Care, to provide for better services.
The report cites testimony such as nearly half of kindergarten teachers report that half or more of their students come to school with social or emotional problems. In addition, more than half of children ages 6-8 suffer from untreated dental disease.
Education continues to be the most politicized issue in California today. Last year, a public opinion poll by the Public Policy Institute of California indicated that education ranked equally with the economy and electricity as the top three issues facing California.