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State Court Upholds Alameda County Tax Measure Yielding Hundreds of Millions for Child Care

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A section of the California seal hangs on the front of the State of California Earl Warren Building on Jan. 22, 2007, in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

After four years of legal debate, California’s highest court upheld an Alameda County sales tax measure to increase access to child care and pediatric health care for lower-income families.

This ruling makes Alameda County the latest Bay Area local government to increase a tax to fund early childhood education and care. San Francisco began implementing Baby Proposition C about two years ago after a legal challenge to the commercial tax initiative was resolved in court.

On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court denied a petition to review a lower court’s ruling that Measure C is legitimate, thus making that decision final. That will allow the county to spend hundreds of millions of dollars collected from the 0.5% sales tax since July 2021. The funds have been held in escrow pending a taxpayer group’s legal challenge to the measure.

The ruling “validates the will of Alameda County voters to fund early education and ensure child care is accessible to all families, and that the labor of child care providers is honored and respected,” Clarissa Doutherd, executive director of the advocacy group Parent Voices Oakland.

“We are thrilled for the initial funding that will lift up children and families throughout the county who have had to suffer through delays that would have helped address growing poverty, under-resourced child care facilities, and severe pediatric needs,” she said.

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The measure was passed by 64% of voters in March 2020, but the Alameda County Taxpayers Association argued that state law requires 66%, or two-thirds vote, to pass for local governments to raise taxes for a specific purpose. The group contends that elected officials, including the late county supervisor Wilma Chan, initiated the measure.

The county countered that the measure was put on the ballot after enough signatures were gathered to support it. For that reason, only a simple majority is needed for a citizen initiative.

Doutherd’s effort to put the measure before voters was the subject of a documentary called “Clarissa’s Battle.” Her struggle as a single mother trying to maintain work as a bookkeeper and pay for preschool for her son led to her advocacy for affordable early childhood education.

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“What this means for me is that in my lifetime, I will see a huge transformation through this initiative that will make sure that parents at least will have an easier time and not know the panic and the fear and the pain of not being able to support themselves and go to work or go to school or even just know that their children are in a safe, nurturing environment,” she said.

When it was first proposed, officials estimated the tax would raise about $150 million a year over 20 years to add more subsidized child care slots, increase early educators’ pay to at least $15 per hour (with annual adjustments for inflation) and offer free or low-cost pediatric health care.

First 5 Alameda County, which will administer the child care fund, also plans to use the money to fund training and professional development classes for providers to raise the quality of early education programs. The effort mirrors an ongoing effort in San Francisco to use revenue from a commercial rent tax to better compensate early educators and lower child care costs.

“The impact of this investment on Alameda County’s children, families and [early childhood education] workforce is not just transformative; it’s imperative for the health of our communities,” Kristin Spanos, CEO of First 5 Alameda County, said in a statement.

She said 21 licensed child care centers and 270 in-home family child care businesses in the county closed permanently between 2019 and 2021.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and deepened the vulnerabilities of our already fragile, underfunded and fragmented system of licensed care,” Spanos said. “Funding from Measure C is a significant milestone in our journey toward creating an equity-centered early childhood system of care.”

A citizen oversight committee will oversee spending from the pediatric health care fund.

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