Proposition I - Child Care for Low Income Families

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2003 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

Prop. I is an ordinance which requires the city to create a “Smart Start for San Francisco Kids” fund intended to subsidize early day care and education for eligible working families. As is often the case in government, only the program is created; no money is appropriated in this ordinance to fund it.

Why it is on the ballot

The State of California subsidizes early childhood education for children whose families earn up to 75% of the State median income. A family of four with income of $47,500 or less is eligible. However, funding for these subsidies, which can reach $8,000 per child per year, is available for only 50% to 60% of the eligible children statewide. About 6,700 children in San Francisco benefit from this program, while another 1,650 are on a waiting list due to lack of funds. The cost of covering these 1,650 children has been estimated at $8 million to $13 million.

Prop. I was placed on the ballot by four Supervisors, in cooperation with one of the mayoral candidates. The measure does not need to be on the ballot; the Board of Supervisors could have passed a resolution making this program a priority.


Proponents state:

  • If the proposal were to be funded, all eligible children would receive the opportunity for early child development, which would better position them for doing well in the K-12 system. The San Francisco Unified School District would benefit because children entering kindergarten would be more advanced than they are now, and that advancement would carry throughout their K-12 career
  • Most studies show that investing in early child development reduces the cost of delivery of education through the 12th grade. Because children who do well in school have less likelihood of dropping out or breaking the law, a funded Prop. I would reduce potential welfare and criminal justice expenses. Studies suggest that for every dollar spent on early child development, seven dollars are saved in remedial coursework and social and criminal justice costs
  • Well-educated citizens will ultimately add to the overall economy


Opponents state:

  • This measure does not create a funding source, and therefore is a binding unfunded mandate
  • It ties the hands of future decision makers by obligating them to spend this money from the City’s General Fund
  • The measure has no sunset clause and can only be reversed or modified by a vote of the people. If a funded Prop. I existed today, it would have made the City’s budget crisis even worse. Prop. I’s protected program could not have been cut, forcing cuts in equally worthy (or even more critical) programs unprotected by a Charter mandate

SPUR's analysis

Prop. I is essentially a policy statement that every child in an eligible family should receive a subsidy for pre-kindergarten education. The subsidy is portable and capped based on the family’s demonstrated need, and the average costs for early child development for the region in which they live. The measure, if passed, would require the City and County of San Francisco to step in and provide those subsidies in the event that the State did not have sufficient funding. The measure does not create any new taxes, nor does it create any new funding source. This binding obligation would have to be met by the discretionary portion of the existing General Fund.

SPUR has reservations about the manner in which this measure reached the ballot. While the proponents met with selected stakeholders in developing it, there was no opportunity for public debate at the Board of Supervisors. The measure was placed on the ballot at the eleventh hour with the bare minimum of four votes required by the Board of Supervisors.

Interestingly, after Prop. I was placed on the ballot, another Supervisor proposed a measure for the March 2004 ballot which would divert $5 million to this program in FY 2004 – 2005, rising to $20 million over four years. That measure as currently proposed would sunset in ten years. Funds would come from “structural shifts” in the City budget, apparently shifting revenues from enterprise funds like the Airport and PUC to the General Fund for these purposes. If such a measure appears on the March 2004 ballot, SPUR will analyze it then.

Despite our reservations, SPUR supports Prop. I. It is a good first step in elevating the subject of early childhood education for working families to a deserved level of prominence. The United States is the only developed nation that has not yet recognized the obligation to fund universal early education, just as we fund universal K-12 education. This is a beginning step.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Prop. I.