Antonio Villaraigosa Talks About Education, Children’s Issues Before Los Angeles Forum for Gubernatorial Candidates

This article was produced in partnership with LA School Report & The Chronicle of Social Change

On Tuesday, May 15, candidates for California’s next governor will gather in Los Angeles to discuss issues vital to children and families, including educational equity.

LA School Report is partnering with The Chronicle of Social Change, the Children’s Defense Fund–California, and the Children’s Partnership for the nonpartisan governor-candidates forum at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Register here for the free event and prepare to vote in the June 5 primary.

Candidates have answered questions on a range of issues in advance of the forum.

Here are the responses from Antonio Villaraigosa, former mayor of Los Angeles.

Q: More than half of California’s children rely on Medi-Cal for their health coverage. What will you do to ensure that children get the quality health services they need, including preventive care, mental health services, and dental care?

A: I grew up in a neighborhood where going to the doctor was a luxury. I believe that health care should not be a privilege for a few, but a right for everyone. When I was a teenager I was diagnosed with a congenital tumor in my spine that paralyzed my legs. I remember my mother thanking God she had insurance so I could get surgery that I needed. I never forgot that, and I have been working on filling the gaps in coverage – especially for children – my entire career.

I authored AB 1126, establishing the Healthy Families program to provide health care coverage to children of working families who make too much to qualify for Medi-Cal but who do not make enough to afford private health insurance coverage. Currently, almost 250,000 children in California are receiving health care through the Healthy Families program.

But for Medi-Cal itself, simply put, we have to protect it. The continued attacks by the Trump administration and the Republican Congress represent a grave threat to the future of Medi-Cal. First and foremost, we have to protect the expansion of Medi-Cal that was possible under the Affordable Care Act, as well as the program as a whole. Currently, one-third of Californians receive health care through Medi-Cal, and in some counties more than half of residents depend on the program. The program represents a lifeline for low-income families, who represent half of the Medi-Cal caseload. Simply put, we must protect this program. One of the most important things we can do to protect Medi-Cal, lower costs, and improve outcomes is to explore opening up Medi-Cal to all Californians. An expansion of Medi-Cal would address accessibility issues for the most vulnerable and at-risk populations.

Moreover, an expanded participant network could also help address fiscal stability issues with the introduction of participant populations who are less likely to access services at the rate of at-risk populations. Additionally, should the ACA revenue provisions be repealed, California has the opportunity to alter and capture some of the federal revenue streams that are already being collected, such as penalties for individuals without coverage, providers fees, the hospital insurance fund surcharge, and other existing revenue sources.

One in five California children lives in poverty. What would you do to end child poverty during your time in office?

We must resist the urge to accept the highest poverty rate in the nation as normal. We’re one of the wealthiest states in the richest country in the world. Men and women and children should not be living on our streets. This is why I am so relentlessly focused on creating good paying jobs to eradicate poverty everywhere in our state. From Boyle Heights to the Bay Area, my commitment is that your ZIP code will not determine your destiny in this state, and opportunity will extend to every Californian.

Lifting families out of poverty lowers crime, increases levels of health, and even increases academic achievement in schools, because children in stable economic situations do better in school than children living in poverty.

Another vital issue to tackle is the unacceptable cost of housing. High housing costs lock people into poverty and lock them out of the middle class. Let’s bring back redevelopment agencies, make housing a priority in policymaking, and put tools in the hands of local governments who want to do the right thing. The good news is, addressing this housing disaster is also very much an opportunity because we can also create hundreds of thousands of high-wage jobs building these new homes.

There are also myriad ways to make a direct impact on people’s lives with the tools we have, and we did this when I was mayor. We established FamilySource Centers, a system to deliver an array of social services to city residents. We helped 50,000 individuals with academic help, financial advice, and other services, created the LARx card to make prescription drugs more affordable and accessible, and helped L.A. County residents claim their Earned Income Tax Credits by publicizing the program for low- and moderate-income residents.

We can’t leave people behind in California any longer. Too many have been left behind already, and I’m saying enough. We can, and we will, solve this problem — especially for our youth.

Research suggests that nearly 14 percent of children in California will be reported for possible maltreatment before age 5. What path should the state take to prevent child abuse and neglect?

I am a survivor of domestic abuse and have stood for children and women suffering from domestic violence my entire life. I know what it’s like to be 5 years old and feel helpless — I couldn’t do anything to stop it then, although I did later.

I launched the Stop Abuse From Existing campaign in 2010, which provided victims, survivors, and advocates with a citywide domestic violence resource guide. I secured $2 million in grants used for officer training, case management, and tracking, and establishing the Domestic Violence Coordinator to help victims transition to safety.

I secured millions in federal funds and private donations to fight domestic violence through an organization called Safe L.A. I also worked with Police Chief Charlie Beck to assign a lieutenant in each of the LAPD’s 21 stations to be responsible for dealing with domestic violence cases.

I will never stop working on this issue, and as governor I will take this work much farther — and I believe it’s closely tied to many other issues we are discussing around childhood well-being.

The scars of domestic violence also run much deeper than physical abuse; it’s psychological violence. For me, I had anger issues, and that led to trouble in school. So there is a nexus here to our school system, our public safety and criminal justice system, and to our shared responsibility to not only stop violence from occurring, but for caring for those who have suffered.

A good school is one that is educating our children, but that has the resources it needs to face the realities of their home life. A good system for dealing with juvenile offenders is not one that gives up on them — it treats the underlying issues that drive behavior. And a good state is one that is generating good jobs that support stable families and generate revenue needed to fund critical programs for those in need.

California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) promised additional resources to low-income students, foster youth, and English-language learnerswho face persistent achievement gaps. How would you improve school accountability, transparency, and community engagement to better support the success of these high-needs students?

I know the life-changing effect an education can have on a young person because I was that kid — the dropout. But I was fortunate that I had a mother who believed in me and a teacher, Herman Katz, who pushed me. And a state that gave me a second shot.

Improving schools starts with transparency around performance so states and districts can help low-performing schools get better. Without the data, you can’t make the case for change. To accomplish improving schools, the state must make sure the Local Control Funding Formula resources get to the kids who need them most — it’s about educational justice. We need to streamline our systems of accountability. We must also support teachers in transforming their instructional practices by providing continuing professional development and supports, and that students are taught using rigorous, high-quality instructional materials.

My goal has always been simple: to ensure that every child in the city had the kind of quality education that would allow him or her to reach their full potential.

When I was in the Assembly, I negotiated a $9.2 billion school construction bond. That’s why when I was mayor, I took on the worst-performing schools in the district and created the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. We also created the Parent College, a program that educates parents about their role in their children’s education.

There’s no child who can’t learn, but there are many children who do not have sufficient opportunities to learn when they need it most — in the first years of their lives. This is why as governor, I would start by developing a Master Plan for Early Education, to put us on the pathway to two major goals: universal access to preschool and full-day kindergarten. And to avoid duplication and make sure tax dollars are being used wisely across agencies and programs, I would appoint a cabinet-level Early Childhood Coordinator.

If we’re going to get serious about closing the achievement gap, we have to start at the beginning. By the time poor kids are 5 years old, they will have heard 30 million fewer words than their wealthy peers. And because the word gap first appears during periods of critical neurological and cognitive development, its effects cannot be easily remedied by later interventions. We need to:

● Increase the availability of high-quality, full-day early childhood education;

● Implement a more unified early childhood education system;

● Provide sustainable funding for these priorities. As a former speaker and mayor, I know there is no progress without resources, and I know to make tough calls to make sure we advance the goals we set for ourselves.

One in six California children has an undocumented parent. What should California do to best support the health and well-being of children in immigrant families?

I support educating all students regardless of immigration status. I have spent most of my life defending immigrants, including the undocumented. I helped lead the fight against Prop 187 and have been a leading voice for comprehensive immigration reform, calling for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States today.

I also have supported and will support universal health care regardless of immigration status. Virtually every person engaged in this health care discussion supports the concept of universal care, including single payer. I have been a supporter of increasing access to health care my entire career. I introduced and passed a massive expansion of public health insurance for California children when I was speaker of the California State Assembly. I also think the people of California deserve a plan that we can actually achieve — which is why my first priority is to protect the ACA. Our second goal must be to continue to extend coverage to more Californians, until coverage is universal.

I grew up living side by side with undocumented immigrants. Maybe I didn’t speak Spanish as a third-generation Californian, but I knew the vast majority of immigrants are hardworking people seeking the same things we want for our own families. I have always stood up for them.

Let’s be very clear here: Immigrants are under attack by the Trump administration. But we’ve been here before with Prop 187. And we stood together as a state to fight back and to protect every Californian. And I was proud to take a leadership role in those fights. We stood together fighting in the courts and building public support for immigrants, and we need to do it again. Now we need to stand and defend Californians again.

Eight hundred thousand DACA recipients live in in the United States — nearly 223,000 here in California. We need to stand and defend our people. I’m proud we’re a sanctuary state — but we need to do more. We need more legal assistance for those who are targeted. If Trump wants to raid a schoolhouse, library, or community center, he’s going to need a special warrant, because he can’t just sweep up our state.

These young people inspire me every single day for their bravery. We must protect them, because we’re protecting the future of our state.

A recent study in Los Angeles County found that 4 out of 5 youth involved with the probation system had a previous report of child abuse or neglect. What should the state do to address the widespread childhood trauma among young people who end up in the youth justice system and ensure that they do not graduate to the adult criminal justice system?

Criminal justice reform is an issue that I have worked on since the early days of my career. I opposed Three Strikes for many years, and in 2012 I stood with Chiefs Charlie Beck and Bill Bratton and dozens of bipartisan officials in supporting Proposition 36 to reform our Three Strikes law.

I think a major part of dealing with the juvenile system is addressing it at the source with targeted and proven intervention methods and, most of all, through education.

For juveniles in the system who have committed serious and/or violent felonies that require intensive treatment services, we have to resource mental health services for them and work closely with counties to make sure our youth are being served in every area of the state.

This is why we have to engage our communities. As mayor I organized an Emergency Summit on Violence in Los Angeles with County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, LAPD Chief Bernard Parks, U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas, other top law enforcement officials, and gang prevention and intervention specialists to seek community solutions.

I started Summer Night Lights to keep parks open and available to families after dark.

I established the Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) with the intention of reducing gang-related violence or holding gang-related violence at existing levels. GYRD also developed the Youth Services Eligibility Tool, which identifies youth with a higher risk of joining a gang and developed a model to address these risks.

From 2007 to 2012, gang crime decreased 43 percent and gang homicides decreased 34 percent. In 2012, I signed a deal with USAID to allow GRYD to provide assistance to service providers combating gang violence internationally.

But this is a broader issue, as we think about public safety, we have to be smart, committing ourselves to gang prevention and youth programs and not overcrowding our prisons with nonviolent offenders. Being tough on crime without regard to root causes of criminal activity created the situation that led to AB 109 and Proposition 47.

California is home to many leading tech companies, but the state is not doing enough to prepare students for careers in the fast-growing STEM field. How will you work to increase equitable access to STEM education to help children learn and thrive?

It starts with universal quality early care and education available to all children. We need to make sure that our K-12 system is delivering a quality education to every child, which includes a challenging curriculum, well-trained teachers, and services when needed to ensure that no child is lost. It is in those critical years of K-12 when children need to be exposed to challenging project-based learning where interest in STEM (and the arts, as many are recognizing) can be ignited and nurtured.

Interestingly, new courses in statistics and data science may open up doors to college and STEM education that have been closed because of the insistence on passing Algebra 2. Algebra 2 acts as a gatekeeper for STEM courses and careers. Through research sponsored by the National Science Foundation, we are learning that computer science and data science courses can be equally predictive regarding potential for STEM education. Some states like Ohio are beginning to allow computer science courses to replace Algebra 2, and Virginia and Tennessee are making financial literacy available to high school students. These developments are opening up new paths for more students to feel confident in math, which is essential if we are not to have barriers to STEM and other good middle-class careers.

Another key barrier preventing college graduation is that so many of our high school graduates are the first in their family to attend college. Research has identified unique challenges for college students who are first-generation college students. Among them are lack of college readiness, financial stability, familial support, and self-esteem. Looking at data of those enrolled in California Community Colleges during 2012–14:

● 61.3 percent of Latinos were first-generation, compared with 28 percent who were continuing-generation;

● 17.8 percent of first-generation were white, and 41.7 percent were continuing-generation; and

● 10.5 percent of first-generation were black, and 15.5 percent were continuing-generation. Programs designed to support first-generation students such as mentorship, academic support, financial advice, networking, and community building need to be supported and expanded.


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