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Early Bird

From a local tool to a Cardona visit

Local, state, federal opportunities for early learning dollars

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.

Dariane shows off a card her pre-K class made for U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Rupen Fofaria/EducationNC

I hope you’re all well and staying cool as North Carolina humidity returns. As we approach summer, EdNC looked back at the last year and asked what pandemic lessons we can take forward. Go here to read how the pandemic has shaped early learning.

Early education faces large issues, from teacher shortages and unstable providers to high costs and low access for children and parents. There are financing proposals at every level aimed at addressing these issues.

The state House passed a bill this month that would allow county commissioners to create service districts to fund early education programs at the local level. Service districts are defined areas in a town or county on which a local government levies property taxes for a specific purpose. I spoke with Florida council leaders who have used a similar model to support local services for children and families and to scale up successful programs.

This approach would not address inequities in resources across the state, said Michele Rivest, senior campaign director for the NC Early Education Coalition. “It’s not a statewide solution to the financing crisis in our state,” she said.

At the state level, Gov. Roy Cooper released his recommendations for the spending of federal relief funds. On top of the $1.3 billion going to stabilize and strengthen child care, Cooper included funds to provide early childhood teacher scholarships and supports and to raise the NC Pre-K slot rate and expand the program.

Cooper said he expects the state budget to include funds for child care during a news conference this month as U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited.

“I think a lot of legislators in both parties have begun to realize the importance of child care to our economy, because it enables parents to be able to work. So I’m hoping that we can have more success this time,” Cooper said.

That leads us to the federal level. Cardona visited to talk about the American Families Plan, President Biden’s proposal that includes large investments in early care and education, from universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds to financial child care assistance for parents.

“It costs more not to do this,” Cardona said at Bright Beginnings Child Development Center in Cary.

I’ll be covering these moving pieces and what they could mean for young children and educators in the weeks ahead. Have questions, story ideas, or just want to chat? Reply to this email. I’d love to connect.


Early years at the GA: Updates from the legislature

EdNC senior reporter Alex Granados’s weekly legislative wrap-up asks what kind of mark Leandro will leave on this legislative cycle.

Leandro is a decades-long education lawsuit in North Carolina that established every child’s constitutional right to a sound, basic education. The court since determined the state was not meeting that constitutional duty. In April, Judge David Lee held a hearing for the most recent remedial plan that seeks to fix that. The plan includes large investments in the state’s early education system (starting on Page 40). Go to Page 20 of the appendix for estimated price tags of those investments, from teacher pipeline supports to increased access to high-quality learning environments starting at birth.

“That plan has since made nary a ripple in that big pond that is the General Assembly — the body that will actually have to allocate the money laid out in that plan if it is to go forward,” Granados writes. The Republican-led chambers have yet to release their budget plans, but it’s unlikely the Leandro recommendations will be an explicit part of them. The Senate’s budget proposal is supposed to come first this year, though after delays in that process, WRAL reported, the House is moving forward on its budget next week.

Meanwhile, House Democrats held a news conference to introduce House Bill 946, titled “Sound Basic Education for Every Child,” which puts into action recommendations from the first two years of the remedial plan heard by the court.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the inequities that are the focus of the Leandro case, particularly for students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners,” said Rep. Rachel Hunt, D-Mecklenburg. “If we truly want to serve our most marginalized students and prepare them for a more prosperous future, we don’t have any time to waste.”


Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

Early education is in an 'unsustainable cycle.' Could service districts help?

“How do we get out of that cycle that we’re in right now? I think this is a tool in the toolbox. I think we need many tools in the toolbox,” said Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford, one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “This just gives the option for a county to decide that this is an investment that we want to make in our community.”

U.S. education secretary visits to talk about American Families Plan, pre-K, and Leandro

“Signs of recovery abound,” Cardona said. “Smiling faces, students — and this place here does it right. I love the opportunities it provides parents, the choices it provides parents. I love the engagement that the students are having, the dedicated educators. I’m hopeful that with the American Families Plan, we can see more of what we saw here today.”


In other early learning news: What I’m reading

The Day Care Dilemma - From Puget Sound Business Journal


Research & Resources: Let's talk child care and national security

Retired military officials last week joined the list of cross-sector leaders calling for investments in early care and education.

“Our lawmakers should take steps to expand the child care subsidy program, create incentives to expand the supply of high-quality infant-and-toddler care programs, and improve the education and compensation of early childhood teachers, all of which will help our state prepare the next generation of North Carolinians to succeed,” retired Army Brig. Gen. Maureen LeBoeuf said during a virtual discussion releasing the report “Investing in North Carolina’s Child Care Sector Can Improve National Security.”

The report comes from the Council for a Strong America, a national bipartisan nonprofit of leaders from law enforcement, military, and business, and Mission: Readiness, a group of retired admirals and generals advocating for “national security by ensuring kids stay in school, stay fit, and stay out of trouble.”

“Whether joining the workforce or entering the military, identifying and prioritizing research-based education programs is essential to putting youth on a path to success early in life,” the report’s introduction reads. “Investing in high-quality child care and the infant-toddler workforce can help address these issues, ensuring that infants and toddlers learn healthy habits at a young age, and are prepared for any career they choose, including serving in the military.”

The report points to the Military Child Care System’s educator supports and financial assistance for parents as strategies that the state should implement. Parents pay on a sliding scale based on income, and public funds support 64% of the cost. Educators receive training at no cost, the report says, which is linked to “a career ladder leading to increased compensation for each completed step.”

“As the military demonstrated, a complete overhaul of the child care system is not necessary; improvements to the existing system that address issues of adequate staffing and employee wages will have lasting impacts for North Carolina’s infants, toddlers, and families.”

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.