Santa Clara County Voter's Guide On Children's Issues

Santa Clara County Office of Education, Area 1

Grace H. Mah

I am a champion for equal access to great schools for all students. The County Office of Education (COE) is charged with educating the most vulnerable students in the county. As the safety net for these children, the COE helps these disadvantaged students meet and exceed their potential.

  1. Taking into consideration the profound impact of COVID-19 and the expanded movement for racial justice and equity, what do you think are the top three issues affecting our children and families and how do you propose to address them?

    The top three issues affecting our children and families are impacts of COVID-19:
    • Providing food and basic needs to students and families in Santa Clara County. The COE coordinated food distribution of the school districts and provided information for students and families to obtain meals throughout the summer.
    • Providing technology and internet access for students without resources for distance learning. The COE is working with technology companies and the County Board of Supervisors to provide devices and WIFI hotspots to 15,000 students throughout the County without the technology needed for successful distance learning.
    • School re-opening. The COE has developed and published guidelines, Stronger Together Guide for Re-Opening Schools by working with the Public Health Department and the Calif Dept of Education. This has helped school district superintendents and school board members understand the different criteria for safety and education that go into plans for school re-opening.

  2. How will the priorities you addressed in the first question be reflected in the way that you approach the budget process?

    The COE has applied for CARES relief funding, along with other state and federal grants to continue supplying food and basic needs for families. In addition, the COE is working with the County Board of Supervisors and local high-tech companies for funding of technology and hotspots to enable disadvantaged students without the resources to be able to succeed at distance learning. Depending on the ability for the COE to secure outside funding and grants to facilitate COVID-19 impacts, the County Board of Education has the ability to allocate emergency funding to cover basic needs and technology, as long as we maintain the State’s requirement of a 2% reserve.

  3. What steps will you take to address the high cost and lack of availability of quality child care and preschool programs in our communities, especially for low-income children and English language learners?

    Since co-founding the Strong Start Coalition eight years ago, I have worked diligently on increasing the access to high quality early learning opportunities for all children 0 – 8 years old. I have lobbied Sacramento legislators annually for increasing funding for early childhood education including increasing reimbursement rates, increasing facilities funding, streamlining licensing and certification processes, among many other efforts. Locally, I have worked with County Supervisor Ellenberg and San Jose City Councilmember Sylvia Arenas on their proposals for using CARES relief funding for childcare for essential workers. My personal goal is for universal preschool in Santa Clara County.

  4. What steps will you take to improve inclusion and outcomes for children with special needs or with disabilities?

    In 2019, the COE conducted a study on the Continuum of Services for Students with Disabilities. The results of the study included an assessment of the current landscape of services for students with disabilities, identified high-quality inclusion programs that can act as models for schools and districts, and found best practices that can assist districts to increase their capacity to use inclusive practices. Three priorities were set: (1) creating a culture of inclusion; (2) providing for quality instruction; and (3) expanding the availability of social and emotional supports. Implementing the nine recommendations from the study will improve inclusion and outcomes for children with special needs.

  5. Much of the student achievement gap has been linked to the "opportunity gap" that low-income children and children of color experience, including lack of access to healthy food, preschool, tutors and enrichment activities. If elected, what steps will you take to address this issue?

    By advocating for quality early learning opportunities and the wrap-around social services needed by underserved families and children, I can positively impact babies, infants, and toddlers subject to the opportunity gap. I will continue to work with legislators, local elected officials, foundations, and school districts to increase resources directed to disadvantaged students. Revenue generation is a critical step, and I am a member of the Funding the Next Generation Working Group to creatively develop revenue streams for children and youth programs. I worked to initiate the first Santa Clara County Children’s Budget and by putting attention on our investments in programs for children, the County is able to demonstrate its budgeting values.