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Early childhood leaders turn attention to very youngest

'Room for innovation and discovery'

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Head Start mental health consultant Elizabeth McLaughlin high fives a preschooler at Winston Salem-State Child Development Center. Liz Bell/EducationNC

For the next year, a new coalition of state early childhood experts will study how to expand Early Head Start, the comprehensive federally funded early learning program that serves children under the age of 3.

Through a $100,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the group will provide recommendations on how to increase equitable access to the program, which only serves 6% of eligible children in North Carolina. To be eligible, children have to live below the poverty line.

The creation of the group is the latest announcement among different efforts from advocacy organizations, policymakers, and state officials to find solutions to the instability of child care, particularly infant and toddler care.

It’s more expensive to provide care for infants and toddlers than preschool-aged children, leading to high prices for parents, a shortage of slots for children, and low wages for teachers.

“I think there’s a lot of room for innovation and discovery,” said Michele Rivest, senior campaign director for the NC Early Education Coalition, which will lead the work along with the NC Head Start Association. “… I think it’s time to rethink how we do this, but also to do it, and to do it really well, because babies need this kind of support.”

Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposal to spend federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds would include a dedicated stream in the state’s subsidy program for high-quality infant-toddler care. The state also awarded the Child Care Services Association funds from the Preschool Development Grant for Babies First NC, a project to enhance the quality of infant and toddler care and support teacher compensation in high-needs areas with the aim to scale up best practices across the state.

Go here for EducationNC Vice-Chair Ferrel Guillory’s piece on how North Carolina compares to other states in its support of babies and toddlers. The State of Babies Yearbook placed the state in the second out of four tiers.

“North Carolina had once earned a reputation as a national leader in addressing childhood issues — with such complementary and interlocking initiatives as Smart Start, NC Pre-K, child care subsidies, early intervention services, Head Start and Early Head Start, and a rating system that has driven up the quality of child care providers,” Guillory wrote in May. “At issue now is whether North Carolina will move ahead anew into the top tier.”

There are lots of moving pieces in early education news at the local, state, and federal levels. Have questions, story ideas, or want to share a challenge you face in serving children? Reply to this email, and let’s chat.


Early years at the GA: Updates from the legislature

Budget leaders reached a spending agreement last week, which means it’s more likely we won’t see the kind of budget stalemate we saw in 2019. Both chambers still must submit their budget proposals. They will also release proposals on how to spend federal ARP funds, which include about $1.3 billion to stabilize child care centers and help families afford care.

The House and Senate agreed to cap spending at $25.7 billion in the first year of the 2021-22 biennium and $26.7 billion in the second.

Gov. Cooper already released his budget and ARP proposals, which include several early childhood allotments. His budget allocates about $78 million in early childhood education and development, including salary parity for early educators with B-K licenses in different settings, WAGE$ scholarships, and funding for NC Pre-K expansion. Go to page 141 here.

Cooper’s ARP proposal would spend that $1.3 billion by reducing the subsidy waitlist with a stream specifically for high-quality infant and toddler care, creating networks of family child care homes and provide technical assistance to child care businesses, increasing the number of qualified early educators by 10% by 2024, providing stabilization grants to child care providers, and more. Go to page 78 here. On top of the child care funds, Cooper’s proposal includes $300 million to expand NC Pre-K, provide literacy coaches trained in the science of reading, and create early educator workforce supports.


Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

What’s next for child care? Coalition to study Early Head Start expansion

Before the pandemic, every county in North Carolina was considered a desert when it comes to child care for infants and toddlers. Even fewer families are accessing care today, said Michele Rivest, senior campaign director at the NC Early Education Coalition (NCEEC).

A new coalition, led by NCEEC and the NC Head Start Association, will study how to change that.

“We have fewer infants and toddlers in our child care programs than ever before,” Rivest said. “So where are they? We need to know these things because this is the most critical time in a child’s development.”

Judge signs order to implement comprehensive Leandro plan; Democratic lawmakers discuss taking action

Judge David Lee signed an order last week to implement a comprehensive eight-year plan to meet the state’s constitutional obligation to provide the opportunity for a sound, basic education to all of the state’s students.

The question now is whether lawmakers will do anything about it.

“If the State fails to implement actions described in the Comprehensive Remedial Plan …’it will then be the duty of this Court to enter a judgment granting declaratory relief and such other relief as needed to correct the wrong,’” the order stated.

DPI maps out science of reading plan and returns to Amplify’s mCLASS tool to assess readers

The Department of Public Instruction gave the State Board of Education an update earlier this month on its plan to implement the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021, a bill championed by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, that modifies the state’s Read to Achieve program. DPI also announced a three-year contract with Amplify Education Inc. to use its mCLASS product to assess students’ reading skills.

Educators in 38 North Carolina school districts will begin training in research-based reading instruction next month.


Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives

Perspective | I’m an early educator. We need the American Families Plan.

“Beyond helping American families meet the needs of today, President Biden’s American Families Plan powers the innovation and growth of tomorrow through an historic expansion in access to quality education and child care,” writes early childhood educator Lana Burske, who is the director of the Weekday Preschool Center at First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro.

“It’s a once-in-a-generation investment that would ensure children and young people are able to grow, learn, and gain the skills they need to succeed.”

Perspective | Support programs providing North Carolina’s children with summer books

Several literacy programs are providing children with free books this summer, which is especially important after a year of pandemic schooling disruptions, writes UNC-Charlotte English professor Mark West.

“It would be easy to throw up one’s hands and hope for the best as children swoop down the summer slide and lose their literacy skills along the way. However, I am pleased to report that several North Carolina literacy programs are determined not to let this happen.”

West calls on everyone who cares about children’s literacy to “promote and support such programs in our communities.”


In other early learning news: What I’m reading

Child Care, Unfiltered - From LAist


Research & Resources: Let's talk child care grants

More grants will soon be available to child care centers and family child care homes as part of the American Rescue Plan relief funds.

Unlike previous stabilization grants, the federal government is requiring state agencies to create an application process. This guide has tips and templates for the creation of those applications.

This document from the national Office of Child Care outlines requirements for grantees and allowable uses of those funds. All funds must be obligated by September 2022 and liquidated by September 2023.

Child care programs must follow health and safety guidelines, pay employees the same amount and provide the same benefits throughout the duration of the grant, and provide relief from co-payments and tuition for parents to the extent possible.

Providers can use the funds for the following purposes:

  • Personnel costs
  • Rent, utilities, facilities maintenance, and insurance
  • Pandemic-related equipment and supplies
  • Goods and services, like food, toys, learning materials, and diapers
  • Mental health services for children and employees

I’ll make sure to include a link for the application when it is active.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.