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Early Bird

Child care enrollment is returning, but teachers aren't

'Everyone had hoped we were coming to a better place.'

Early Bird readers, hello again. Newcomers, welcome! If you were forwarded this email, you can sign up here to receive it every two weeks, and join our conversation on issues facing North Carolina’s young children and those who support them. If you’re already a subscriber, please help us reach more people by sharing this with your friends and co-workers interested in early childhood education.

Liz Bell/EducationNC

A new survey, released at the end of July, has documented the financial struggles many child care providers, educators, and families experienced during the first year of the pandemic. As we head into an uncertain fall, new challenges are arising for providers who can’t find qualified teachers.

In April, one in five child care providers who responded to the survey said they were at risk of closing permanently in the following six months without more financial support. Thirty-one percent of respondents reported revenue losses greater than $45,000, citing drops in enrollment and higher costs to meet pandemic safety standards.

We wanted to have the survey data to complement what we knew anecdotally,” said Sheila Hoyle, executive director of Southwestern Child Development. The survey was conducted by Zogby Analytics, commissioned by the NC Child Care Resource and Referral Council, and funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.

Enrollment is almost back to pre-pandemic levels, especially for children whose parents rely on the subsidy program to afford care. But many providers are struggling to fill job openings, sometimes having to cut classrooms.

“This is probably a little bit before we were feeling the full brunt of the staffing crisis,” said Janet Singerman, president and CEO of Child Care Resources Inc. “That has exacerbated the challenges of remaining open and economically viable during COVID. And as enrollment was recovering … the variant presumably will continue that challenge rather than lessen that challenge when everyone had hoped we were coming to a better place.”

What challenges are you facing in serving students or accessing early education for your children? Reply to this email and let me know. As school starts back, I’m also continuing to look for stories about what this year looks like for the early elementary grades. Let me know what you’re seeing in your classrooms and communities.

Thank you for all you do for our youngest learners.

Early years at the GA: Updates from the legislature

The House passed its version of the budget last week. Go here for an overview of many of its education components by EdNC’s newest reporter, Anna Pogarcic.

When it comes to early education, the House’s plan includes:

  • An additional $30 million in recurring funding to Smart Start over the next two years.
  • Recurring funds to increase the rate the state pays NC Pre-K providers for 4-year-old slots ($1.7 million for fiscal year 2021-22 and $3.4 million for 2022-23). That amounts to a 2% increase each year. The proposal says the General Assembly’s intent is for this money to be used to increase the salaries of teachers in child care centers to address disparities in compensation between private child care teachers and public pre-K teachers in elementary schools or Head Start programs.
  •  $10 million in nonrecurring funds from federal relief funds for grants to help NC Pre-K providers or child care facilities with start-up costs, quality improvements, or capital improvements. The plan says the grants should prioritize classrooms and child care facilities “located in child care deserts and low-performing and high-poverty districts.”
  • Of the Child Care and Development Block Grant federal relief funds awarded through the American Rescue Plan, the House proposes allocating:
    • $274 million to reduce the child care subsidy waitlist, prioritizing children in foster care ($206-215 million) and to improve early childhood technology infrastructure ($50-59 million).
    • Up to $30 million to cover copays for parents receiving child care subsidy assistance through the end of 2021.
    • Up to $207.8 million to build the supply of child care teachers through staff bonuses and other pipeline programs like apprenticeships, fast-track programs, and stackable credit options.
    • $35 million to Child Care WAGE$, which provides education-based salary supplements to early educators. The plan says the intent is for the program to be accessible in every county. This was one main request by early childhood advocates.
  • The plan says child care facilities would not have to undergo environmental rating scale (ERS) assessments if they lost stars because of a loss of qualified teachers and an inability to replace them. It also would lower the threshold for facilities to earn “education points” in the quality rating system through June 2023 and require the Division of Child Development and Early Education to submit a report to the legislature on a variety of early childhood educator workforce metrics by March 2023.
  • $16 million in federal funds through the Child Care Entitlement to States grant, which unless designated, would become part of the child care subsidy assistance program.

Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

Survey documents child care providers’ pandemic struggles; experts say they’re not over

“We are definitely not out of this pandemic,” said Marcia Whitley, president and CEO of Verner Center for Early Learning, which has three centers in Buncombe County and a home-based Early Head Start program. “In fact, we really have not substantially changed in any way all of the different health and safety protocols that we put in place.”

How summer reading programs could help to accelerate learning this year

A shifting culture in reading instruction and sharp increases in summer school attendance across the state could mean students are better prepared for learning recovery and acceleration — provided that their summer reading camps fit certain parameters.

Here’s what the research says about the impact of summer learning, and a look at some of those summer programs.

Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives

Perspective | Child care workforce compensation: A key component for economic recovery

“When wages within community businesses rise, child care programs can’t compete,” writes Marsha Basloe, president of the Child Care Services Association, and Amy Cubbage, president of the North Carolina Partnership for Children.

“They simply can’t pay more because to do so, they would have to charge parents more. Yet, parents already struggle with affording child care. It’s just one reason why public education is just that, paid for by the public.”

In other early learning news: What I’m reading

The Kindergarten Exodus - From The New York Times

Research & Resources: Let's talk kindergarten entry assessments

A new report from the Learning Policy Institute examines 38 states’ kindergarten entry assessments (KEAs) and provides recommendations to strengthen the tool during an especially critical time in assessing young children’s needs during the pandemic.

For more on North Carolina’s KEA and changes in 2020, go here.

High-quality KEAs, the report says, should:

  • Be formative and measure child development domains in culturally responsive ways.
  • Be fair for all children and practical for teachers. A traditional seated assessment that takes a long time is not developmentally appropriate. Professional development on how to administer the test and use the results is key.
  • Yield results that are valid for all children being assessed. The report points out that the assessment components should be backed by rigorous research that includes children from diverse backgrounds.

To strengthen kindergarten assessments, states and districts should:

  • Choose high-quality assessments that fulfill the above characteristics.
  • Make sure assessments inform instruction and build family engagement. Teachers should receive ongoing training on how to use the results and should share the information with families to plan together.
  • Use assessment data to strengthen systems and not to evaluate individual programs or restrict children’s access to kindergarten.
  • Support continuous improvement by including teachers in assessment development, fund regional staff to help with implementation, and continually evaluate its helpfulness for educators and students.
Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.