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A Brighter Future for San Francisco’s Children: Early Education Milestones and Aspirations

elementary aged boy reaching his arm up through bubbles blown on crowded street

Every half-decade, the San Francisco Child Care Planning and Advisory Council (CPAC), in partnership with the Department of Early Childhood (DEC), undertakes a significant endeavor: crafting a comprehensive needs assessment for early care and education in the city. This assessment isn’t just a report. It’s a cornerstone in our quest to provide every child in San Francisco with the best possible start in life, and to make our city a wonderful place to raise families. 

The journey toward a brighter tomorrow begins with understanding where we stand today. DEC and the Child Care Planning and Advisory Council work hand in hand to analyze the evolving needs of our community. By assessing these needs every five years, we ensure that we’re creating meaningful pathways for improvement. This assessment informs our continuous efforts to enhance the availability, quality, and accessibility of early care and education for all families in San Francisco. Here’s what we’ve learned this year.

Celebrating San Francisco’ Success

So much about the early childhood landscape in San Francisco is exciting. When the SF Department of Early Childhood was created in 2022, we had big goals to create a city for parents and children. The good news is, it’s working! 

  1. A Place for Everyone: Preschool Access
    Our city truly shines in its commitment to preschool access for 3 to 5-year-olds. Over decades, San Francisco’s investment in universal and subsidized preschool programs, as well as the development of dedicated preschool facilities, has yielded remarkable results. The unrelenting dedication has paid off: today, there is no unmet need for subsidized early care and education for children aged 3 to 5. The total licensed capacity for preschool-aged children meets nearly 100% of the demand.
  2. Thriving Amidst Challenges: Growth in Overall Licensed Capacity
    Amidst the challenges of the past few years, our city has not only managed to maintain stable capacity during the pandemic but has also seen growth in overall licensed capacity, both in child care centers and family child care homes. This remarkable resilience is a testament to our collective commitment to providing a nurturing environment for our children. To sustain this growth, we’re investing $60 million to expand facilities and $70 million annually to ensure a stable, well-compensated workforce—dedicated professionals who truly make a difference in our children’s lives.
  3. Empowering Families: Expansion of Financial Support for Families
    The journey toward affordable care has also seen significant strides. Since 2016, subsidy availability has expanded, ensuring more San Francisco families can access quality care than ever before. DEC’s recent expansion of eligibility to 110% of Area Median Income is a game-changer, projecting further growth in subsidy availability in the coming years.

Addressing Our City’s Unmet Needs

While we celebrate our successes, we also acknowledge areas where there’s room for growth. Here is what we are doing to close the gaps for San Francisco’s families now, and in years to come. 

  1. Caring for Babies: Infant-Toddler Capacity
    Although preschool needs are nearly 100% met, only 16.5% of the demand for infant-toddler spaces is satisfied. To address this, DEC’s two-year budget includes a $40 million investment in new facilities and $30 million to help centers convert existing preschool spaces into infant-toddler areas, supported by planning grants, specialized coursework, and incentives for teacher recruitment.
  2. Empowering Local Communities: Capacity in Every Neighborhood
    San Francisco’s heart beats strongest in its neighborhoods, and we’re dedicated to ensuring that every corner of our city experiences accessible early care and education. We’re actively addressing specific challenges in areas including the Excelsior, Noe Valley, and the Sunset. Through the Early Learning San Francisco initiative, we’re streamlining the application process for programs in high-need areas, rapidly expanding our network in neighborhoods that need it most.
  3. Sharing the Wealth: Subsidized Care for Every Neighborhood
    While there is no unmet need for subsidized care for children 3-5 years old in San Francisco as a whole, there are specific parts of our city where there is not enough subsidized care for the number of eligible preschoolers living in them.

As we look ahead, our sights are set on universal pre-kindergarten (UPK). DEC is at the forefront of this initiative, aiming to broaden preschool subsidy availability and capacity. By embracing a mixed delivery system that combines SFUSD Transitional Kindergarten, Head Start, State-funded Preschool, and locally subsidized programs, we’re ensuring that every child, in every corner of our vibrant city, has access to quality early education.

In the year since DEC was created, we have been able to accomplish so much. We are proud of everything we have done, and excited to keep charting the path to success. Together, as a community, we’re building a nurturing, inclusive, and educational environment that will leave a lasting legacy for generations to come.