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Early Bird

Workforce efforts ahead of funding cliff

Welcome back, let's catch up.

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.

Pre-K students play in the gym of Trenton Elementary. Liz Bell/EducationNC

It’s good to be in your inboxes again. The EdNC team took a sabbatical in July — a month jam-packed with early childhood news. Let’s take a look back, and then a look toward the coming months.

The state legislature convened and passed a test-out option for people to qualify to work in early childhood programs.

The minimum requirement to work in a licensed child care program in the state was one community college course. Now people can instead take a test to earn the NC Early Childhood Credential.

Some early childhood advocates and providers are concerned that the change was a step toward lower quality. But others are hoping it will open the field to a larger pool of experienced people, such as teachers from other states, during a period of staffing shortages.

Early childhood faculty members at community colleges are developing this test, along with other initiatives to address both the short-term crisis and the long-term early childhood teacher pipeline issues. They’re working on:

  • Early childhood apprenticeships.
  • Sped-up courses to get teachers credentialed more quickly.
  • College credit for prior learning through a “challenge exam.”

More on what the legislative session meant for early care and education below.

Congress did not act on child care. 

Child care investments did not make it into Congress’s reconciliation package as advocates hoped. The bill focuses on efforts to slow climate change and increase health care access.

Many providers and advocates in North Carolina were hopeful that the federal government’s large-scale investments could have made a big difference for children and families.

Providers are worried about next year.

Without action from Congress, providers and advocates are more nervous about next spring, when stabilization funds that programs have largely been using to increase wages run out. The long session — when the state legislature will craft its budget for the next two fiscal years — is the next chance for more public funding for the system. But we will not have a budget before that funding cliff.

How many programs will have to close, due to staffing shortages or other financial challenges, remains to be seen.

As school starts back, EdNC is hitting the road again.

The EdNC team is visiting all 58 community colleges this fall. We’re focusing on some specific research areas, including early care and education. I’m excited to spend time with early childhood students, faculty, providers — and of course folks outside of early childhood too!

We’ll be asking about how colleges are responding to workforce needs, addressing compensation in the field, and providing child care support to students. I’ll see some of you on the road. For the rest of you, don’t hesitate to reach out with story ideas, questions, or just to connect.

Thanks for reading!

Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

Pre-K suspensions and expulsions can have dire effects — but we don’t know how common they are

I’m so proud of my early childhood colleague Katie Dukes, who this week brought us her first look at the state of exclusionary discipline practices in early childhood settings.

Suspensions and expulsions in the early years can have harmful effects — on brain development, mental health, and educational outcomes. But no one knows exactly how often these practices are used.

Dukes unpacks why these are harmful and what kinds of efforts are under way in North Carolina to better understand the problem. She’ll be looking next into solutions to reduce these practices.

Can passing a test, instead of a course, boost the number of early childhood teachers without sacrificing quality?

“Our focus is so much on keeping our classrooms open. That’s important, but open at what expense?” Rhonda Rivers said at the NC Child Care Commission meeting on August 1. Rivers is director of curriculum and training at LeafSpring Schools — a for-profit group of centers that serves more than 600 families in Mecklenburg and Union counties.

“We just have to make sure that we don’t negate our need for having people who understand the needs of children,” Rivers said, “and that comes with some level of education.”

Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives

Perspective | What does college have to do with newborns? Everything, it turns out

“College is expensive,” Book Harvest CEO Ginger Young and consultant and long-time child advocate Carl Rist write.

“And many parents, rightfully and understandably, see it as out of reach for their children. Yet research by Professor Willie Elliott from the University of Michigan finds that children who have college savings of as little as $1-$499 are three times more likely to attend college and two-and-a-half times more likely to graduate than those who do not.”

In other early learning news: What I’m reading

The Campus Child Care Crisis - From Inside Higher Ed

Research & Resources: Let's talk pandemic home-based care

Researchers from the University of California and Northwestern University looked at the impact of the pandemic on North Carolina early childhood programs. What they found is consistent with what we already know: large enrollment declines, not many closures. But their paper does provide some concrete numbers and some interesting details on provider type:

  • Child care centers lost about 858 children on average per county. Centers had a 41% drop in enrollment statewide.
  • Family child care homes, on the other hand, lost about 14 children per county. Their enrollment dropped only 19%.
  • About two centers closed per county from February to December 2020, while the number of home-based providers increased by 4%.
  • These closures affected the highest-quality programs only (rated 5-star on the state’s scale).
  • Counties with higher percentages of Hispanic residents had higher closures than those with smaller Hispanic populations.

The researchers guessed that home-based providers’ flexible schedules, smaller group sizes, and lower tuition rates helped them fare better than centers during the start of the pandemic.


Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.