Cover: Early and School-Age Care in Santa Monica

Early and School-Age Care in Santa Monica

Current System, Policy Options, and Recommendations: Executive Summary

Published Apr 25, 2014

by Ashley Pierson, Lynn A. Karoly, Gail L. Zellman, Megan K. Beckett


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Research Questions

  1. How will budget and policy changes affect the system of infant and toddler care, preschool and prekindergarten programs, and school-age programs in Santa Monica in terms of access, quality, effectiveness, and sustainability?
  2. How can new funding sources be integrated with existing funding streams, including subsidy and fee structures, to simplify and sustain the mix of programs and services required to meet the needs of families?
  3. How can the current system of early care and learning programs and school-age programs be improved or redesigned to address gaps in service, raise quality, streamline service delivery, and strengthen and reconfigure the funding structure?

The landscape of early learning and out-of-school-time programs in the City of Santa Monica is complex, with numerous providers and funding streams. This complexity reflects its evolution in response to changes in federal, state, and local priorities and initiatives. Future shifts in funding levels, program auspices, and other features are likely. In July 2012, the City of Santa Monica Human Services Division and the Santa Monica–Malibu Unified School District contracted with the RAND Corporation to conduct an assessment of child care programs in Santa Monica. The study was motivated in part by the perception of some stakeholders that the system of care had become fragmented and complex. Additional motivations were the uncertainty of resource streams stemming from recent and anticipated state and federal budget cuts and a desire to ensure youth well-being in the community. The project sought to assess how well Santa Monica's child care programs meet the needs of families, including child care and early education programs serving children from birth to kindergarten entry, as well as care for school-aged children (focusing on kindergarten through eighth grade) in the hours before and after school and in the summer. Overall, recommendations for improvement focused on advancing access, quality, service delivery, and financial sustainability.

Key Findings

  • The city has a diverse mix of public and private early and school-age care providers in home-based and center-based settings.
  • The city funds its child care subsidies using tiered reimbursement, which gives providers an incentive to improve quality.
  • The city and school district work together to provide before- and after-school offerings on every elementary- and middle-school campus.
  • Many parents are positive about their experiences with care programs; they value the services the city offers.
  • Parents are often unaware of the full range of care options and can find the system of care subsidies challenging to navigate.
  • There is strong support for greater economic diversity of families in child care programs, particularly those that receive public funding.
  • Parents indicated that the lack of flexible payment options (e.g., pay only for days attended) limited participation in after-school programs for children with nonstandard schedules.
  • Moreover, parents often feel constrained in their choices by a lack of transportation for their school-age children to off-campus program options.
  • There is a perceived need to improve the quality of early and school-age care programs, but objective measures of program quality are not routinely collected.
  • The mixed public-private delivery system can result in a lack of alignment between early learning programs and elementary schools and between the school day and out-of-school programming.
  • Some sources of public funds for early and school-age care may be underutilized, including tax system child care subsidies.


  • Develop a web-based portal for one-stop information on care providers and sources of financial support, including options for subsidies.
  • Develop a strategic plan for expanding public preschool slots for fee-paying families and increase awareness of this option.
  • Give priority enrollment for preschool slots in district schools to neighborhood children who will continue on to kindergarten.
  • Coordinate offerings to meet programming and scheduling needs of school-age children and families, and ensure that participants can access the offerings with appropriate prorated fees.
  • Develop transportation options to shuttle students from site to site.
  • Collect periodic independent quality assessments; create additional incentives and capacity for improving program quality.
  • Collect kindergarten readiness data that can be linked with preschool developmental assessments and subsequent student performance.
  • Incorporate specific features in public preschool programs likely to attract full-fee families.
  • Improve the quality of school-age programming, with a focus on broadening the scope of activities to appeal to middle- and higher-income families.
  • Improve integration between preschool and early public elementary systems.
  • More closely connect after-school staff and their activities with school-day staff and academic program.
  • Encourage private- and public-sector employers to offer dependent care flexible spending accounts and to consider other ways of providing child care funding assistance to their employees.
  • Use web-based portal and other outreach methods (e.g., public awareness campaigns) to increase parent knowledge and take-up of tax code subsidies for child care.
  • Encourage enrollments by fee-paying parents in public programs to provide more sustainable funding and increase economic diversity.

This report was funded by the City of Santa Monica and the RAND Corporation. This research was conducted jointly in RAND's RAND Education and Labor and Population units.

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