Senator Holly J. Mitchell Lifts Up Early Education
Mother, senator, and advocate for children and families, Holly Mitchell lifts up early education by reflecting on her career journey leading to her position in office. When she was CEO of nonprofit Crystal Stairs, one of the largest childcare agencies in the state that provides critical services to low-income families, Senator Mitchell championed statewide family-focused policymaking and advocated for quality, affordable child care. Now, by serving in the California Senate, Senator Mitchell, 26th District, remains dedicated to these same ideals.
As LAUP celebrates Preschool Teacher of the Year, and the nation celebrates Teacher Appreciation Day and Mother’s Day, we are delighted to speak with early childhood education influencers like Senator Mitchell, and we commend the senator for her unwavering commitment to investing in our state’s youngest children.
Q: How did you first become interested in/involved in early education?
Senator Mitchell: “I had worked on early education issues from different angles at several of my earlier jobs. As a working parent, I also had the experience of trying to choose the ‘right’ pre-school and elementary school for my own child.”
Q: When you were CEO of Crystal Stairs, what were some of your most eye-opening revelations about the state of early childhood care and education in LA County?
Senator Mitchell: “To close past budget gaps, the State has cut funding for child care and preschool by nearly 40% since 2008 – enrolling far fewer children in California’s child care and preschool programs.”
Q: What caused you to pursue a career in legislation?
Senator Mitchell: “What I found most puzzling while advocating for subsidized child care at Crystal Stairs was the woeful under-supply of both affordable child care and quality early education in a state in which public policy was – and is – through CalWORKs, pushing adults with children off government assistance and into the work force – without addressing the problem of where and how children were to spend the time while their parents were at work. When I walked the halls of the Capitol raising that issue, I discovered there (that) were just too few legislators for whom the needs of working families was a priority. That’s when I decided to run!”
Q: Considering the climate in Sacramento, how does your unique perspective as formerly working for Crystal Stairs, and now in legislation, influence your decision making as well as help educate the current legislators around you?
Senator Mitchell: “Once elected to the Legislature and serving on the Assembly Budget Committee, all of that background helped me to recognize and focus on the results of numerous studies which pointed to the necessity of lifting children out of deep poverty as early in life as possible for them to have a realistic shot at eluding poverty as adults. Early education is crucial in that effort. In the midst of the economic downturn, keeping that focus while making cuts to balance the state budget has proved a difficult challenge that should remain a priority as the state’s economic recovery continues.”
Q: How would you describe the connection between early education and policy?
Senator Mitchell: “It should be the focus of state policy to protect the most vulnerable among us and help prepare Californians to compete effectively in the global economy.”
Q: Was there a particular person who influenced your career direction and/or helped shape your working style?
Senator Mitchell: My mother, Sylvia Johnson, inspired me by example. She was one of California’s first African American women to both run a state prison and a county probation system. Mom taught me, ‘Stand up for what you believe and don’t sit down until it’s done.’”
Continuing her mother’s legacy, Senator Mitchell has yet to “sit down” as she continues to champion for quality early education.
”Restoration of critical early care and education programs and further investment in our youngest children is key to creating a brighter future,” she says.