SAN FRANCISCO — Bay Area officials are looking closely, yet skeptically, at a Los Angeles County program that provides free preschool using proceeds from state cigarette taxes.
Los Angeles County residents approved a proposition earlier this month that allows some of the tobacco-tax money to be used for early childhood programs. The county plans to phase in as many as 100,000 children into preschool slots over several years.
But officials in the Bay Area say a universal preschool program would not work for every county in the state.
“L.A. has much more money than we have, so that does come with a certain flexibility,” said Brenda Blasingame, executive director of Contra Costa County’s Children and Family Commission.
Blasingame said it’s better to invest limited resources in the education and retention of child-care workers than to put the money on a free preschool system.
In Contra Costa county cigarette-tax revenue has fallen from $12.8 million in the first year to $11 million this year.
Los Angeles County agrees it receives more funding than most counties. Proposition 10, the tobacco-tax measure passed in 1998, generates about $700 million annually for the state and $165 million for Los Angeles County.
Proposition 10 added a 50-cent tax to a pack of cigarettes and an additional levy on cigars and pipe tobacco. California’s 58 counties divide the revenue based on local birthrates and use the money mainly for child-development programs.
Alpine, California’s smallest county, is planning a preschool program funded by tobacco taxes, but its program would need to cover only about 20 children.
Since the burden is larger for counties like those in the Bay Area, most are pursuing other policies in the face of declining tobacco tax revenues.
San Francisco, which received $8.5 million in the program’s first full year and $7.7 million last fiscal year, considered a program like Los Angeles’ when its Children and Families Commission was first formed. Officials decided against it and chose to put much of their money into programs to supplement the low pay and benefits earned by child-care providers.