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Here are the early childhood items still in play in this legislative session

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  • .@DavidWillisNC told EdNC he remains optimistic that funds to continue child care teacher compensation grants will make it into the final budget.
  • The bills that are still alive this session that impact early care and education would maintain increased subsidy rates for child care providers and study changes to the way the state rates licensed child care.
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Last week was “crossover” in the General Assembly, the deadline by which bills must pass one chamber and cross over to the other to remain active this legislative session. There are some exceptions to this rule, like if the bill has a fiscal allocation.

When it comes to early care and education, the bills that made crossover would rethink how the state would rate licensed child care, allocate additional funds for child care subsidy, and create a pilot that splits the cost of child care among the state government, participating businesses, and their eligible employees.

There is no money in the surviving bills to continue stabilization funds that programs have largely used to increase teachers’ compensation. Those federal grants run out at the end of this year, and the legislature’s early childhood caucus prioritized a $300 million request to keep providers from falling off a financial cliff. Providers and advocates are concerned about maintaining quality and increased tuition without continued support.

“Without this funding to sustain bonuses and increased wages in today’s labor market, more child care directors, teachers and assistants will leave, parent fees will increase, and North Carolina’s child care shortage and workforce crisis will only get worse,” said Charles Hodges, executive director of the NC Licensed Child Care Association. “Extending the grants would allow time to convince Congress to increase federal funding for child care and see providers through a forecasted recession.”

Though the bills requesting these funds did not survive crossover, Rep. David Willis, R-Union, said he remains optimistic that they will make it into the final budget. The Senate will likely release its budget next week.

“That continues to be our push, and I expect that we’ll see that at the end of the day,” Willis told EdNC. Willis is a co-chair of the early childhood caucus and an owner of a preschool program.

Although there are always unpredictable ways that policymakers could introduce new items and funding, here’s what we know is still possible this session for early education.

Child care in abortion bill

The legislature last week passed Senate Bill 20, the “Care for Women, Children, and Families Act,” which would ban abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions. The bill also includes $32 million recurring in 2023-24 and $43 million recurring in 2024-25 for the state’s child care subsidy program, which helps low-income working parents pay for child care.

This funding would continue paying child care providers at the rates recommended by a 2021 market rate survey. The Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) had started paying at 2021 rates with temporary federal funds.

The market rate survey for this program, which is mostly funded by federal money, is conducted every two years and asks child care programs what they charge parents. It’s then up to the state to update the rates through legislation.

“Increasing the subsidy rates from 2018 to 2021 simply means that they’re getting a few more dollars a month for each of those children,” said Jenna Nelson, executive director of the N.C. Early Education Coalition.

The surveys recommend setting subsidy rates at 75% of the market rates, with variation depending on the age of children served, the star rating of the program, and the county.

The bill also would get rid of a rule that programs cannot receive a higher subsidy rate from the state than the rate they charge private-paying parents. This helps programs in rural and low-income places, Nelson said, who are not able to charge parents the subsidy rate without pricing them out.

This is more funding than what the House budget proposed for subsidy: $24 million recurring starting in 2024-25. Yet it is not enough to fix the core issues of the industry, Nelson said.

“There’s so much more that’s needed to really stabilize the child care industry that this little bit is not going to do that,” she said.

There is no legislation still in play that would create a subsidy floor. Senate Bill 288 and House Bill 343 requested $14 million in the first year of the biennium and $85 million in the second to establish such a floor rate, but neither survived crossover.

The floor was a request by advocates and chairs of the early childhood legislative caucus. It would have leveled out the variation in the amount of funding that providers receive for the subsidy program based on the income of the area. Hodges called the floor’s absence “unfortunate.”

“We need to ensure that the lowest reimbursement rates are high enough to cover the costs of the subsidy program’s requirements, especially staff requirements for highly rated child care centers,” he said. 

Gov. Roy Cooper has committed to vetoing Senate Bill 20 this weekend. Republican lawmakers have the numbers to override that veto.

The bill also includes increased Medicaid rates for obstetric providers, Medicaid coverage of group prenatal care, and paid parental leave for state employees. Beth Messersmith, campaign director for MomsRising’s North Carolina chapter, called these policies being added to the abortion restrictions “insulting.”

“It’s an attempt to sugarcoat what we all know is an attack on women’s rights,” Messersmith said. “We will not be forced to choose between our fundamental rights and the policies our families need.”

Rethinking star rating system for child care

House Bill 344 and Senate Bill 291 task the state’s Child Care Commission with recommending changes to the state’s Quality Rating Improvement (QRIS) system, which ranks licensed child care centers and homes from one to five stars. For now, that rating comes from program and education standards.

The bill requires the commission’s recommendations to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services before the 2024 legislative session to allow teachers to receive points on the system for education standards through national accreditation agencies, including:

  • National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Academy for Early Childhood Program Accreditation.
  • National Accreditation Commission for Early Care and Education Programs (NAC).
  • National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA).
  • National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC).
  • American Montessori Society (AMS).
  • International Montessori Council (IMC).
  • Cognia (formerly AdvanceED).

Senate Bill 722 is similar, requiring DCDEE to incorporate the child development associate (CDA) credentials, both for children from birth to 3 years old and children 3 to 5 years old, into the QRIS system.

“This 20-year-old system is in need of updating,” Hodges said. “We’re excited to be a part of that process and look forward to seeing these bills pass and the results next April.”

The commission and DCDEE are already creating a plan to modernize QRIS that will be up for review by the legislature in spring 2024. There will be community outreach meetings at these dates and locations:

May 22, 2023Webinar (Click to Join)12:30–2:00 pm
May 23, 2023Asheville, NC
Emmanuel Lutheran School
51 Wilburn Place
May 30, 2023Williamston, NC
Martin Economic Development Telecenter
415 East Blvd #130
June 1, 2023Greensboro, NC
Children and Family First
1200 Arlington Street
June 13, 2023Raleigh, NC
333 East Six Forks Road, Room 165
June 15, 2023Fayetteville, NC
Fayetteville Technical Community College
Tony Rand Student Center/Multipurpose Room
2220 Hull Road
June 20, 2023Morganton, NC
Western Piedmont Community College
Higher Education Center/Room 163
2128 South Sterling Street
June 21, 2023Webinar (Click to Join)12:30–2:00pm
June 22, 2023Charlotte, NC
Child Care Resources, Inc.
200B Regency Executive
Park Drive, Suite 240
June 28, 2023Jacksonville, NC
Onslow County Public Library
58 Doris Ave E

A Tri-Share model, plus other House budget items

The Senate budget probably will be released at the beginning of next week.

The House budget includes $900,000 for each of three years to create a Tri-Share child care pilot program, which would split the cost of child care among the state government, participating employers, and their eligible employees.

The budget bill says the pilot would start in three “geographically diverse” counties and requires that one of the counties is designated “Tier One” in the state Department of Commerce’s economic distress rankings. DCDEE and the North Carolina Partnership for Children would choose the counties. Smart Start partnerships would facilitate the programs at the local level.

Click below to read more about the model’s origins: a program in Michigan that also started as a pilot and is now operating in 59 of the state’s 83 counties.

The House budget also would allocate $1.05 million to create a Wonderschool pilot to open 300 new home-based child care programs, $5 million recurring funds for Smart Start, and a one-time $10 million to give child care teachers automatic eligibility for subsidy assistance for their own children.

“I think everybody realizes this time around the importance of early childhood education and good quality child care, not just for the young children, but for the families, for the workforce,” Willis said.

“It’s impacting everybody, from our biggest population centers to the smallest rural towns that we have.”

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.