Policy brief

A Stark Plateau

California Families See Little Growth in Child Care Centers
Bruce Fuller
University of California, Berkeley
Shelley Waters Boots
Annie E. Casey Foundation
Emilio J. Castilla
MIT Sloan School of Management
Diane Hirshberg
University of Alaska Anchorage


In 1950, just one in six mothers, with a young child under age five, worked in the paid labor force. By 2000, this share had climbed to two in every three mothers. This revolution in the economic and social roles of women has spurred rising demand for childcare. And it’s become clear that youngsters’ participation in quality center-based programs can contribute to early learning and social development.

Political leaders at state and federal levels have responded in recent years, dramatically boosting expenditures on various kinds of early education—from preschools and centers to vouchers that reimburse all types of providers, including kith and kin, for their childcare services. In California, total spending on child care programs (including federal block grant dollars) has escalated from $800 million in 1996–97 to $3.1 billion in the 2001–02 fiscal year. This growth in funding would be even greater if federal Head Start spending was included.

Beyond support for low-income families, the legislature and governor created a tax credit program in 2000 to help offset childcare costs for a wide range of parents, equaling about $200 million this fiscal year.

Given this new funding, are California families realizing new options for quality childcare? Has access to childcare centers and preschools expanded? These are the questions that this brief aims to inform.

Suggested citationFuller, B., Boots, S. W., Castilla, E. J., & Hirshberg, D. (2002, July). A stark plateau—California families see little growth in child care centers [Policy brief]. Policy Analysis for California Education. https://edpolicyinca.org/publications/stark-plateau