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Early Bird

How can we fix child care?

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.

Tenisha McGhee, director of East Carolina Kiddie College. Liz Bell/EducationNC

Over the last two weeks, two reports offer a clear picture of child care in North Carolina — and ways to make positive change for children and families. I wrote about both: one on child care capacity by county and one on early childhood proposals with bipartisan momentum. Here’s what you need to know about the picture they paint:

  • North Carolina child care providers have space for only about a quarter of the youngest children, ages 3 and under, whose parents are working.
  • Caring for this age group is especially expensive because of how many people are needed — and especially important in terms of child development and parents’ workforce participation.
  • Advocates are worried about the cliff approaching programs next summer that are keeping many providers afloat. Staffing shortages and low teacher compensation are the biggest concerns.

Ahead of the legislative session starting this week, here are some ways public dollars could make a difference, according to the reports:

  • More funding to the child care subsidy program to help more parents afford care and increase the per-child rate programs receive to reflect the true cost of high-quality care.
  • Grants and incentives for centers to open more infant/toddler spots.
  • Higher compensation for the early childhood workforce, scholarships for teachers to return to school, and support to elevate the field from institutions of higher education.

There is tons of promising work already happening in North Carolina. Go to pages 39-41 for a list of initiatives underway to strengthen and expand infant/toddler care from a report released last week by the NC Early Education Coalition and researched by the Child Care Services Association.

And check out this (smaller) report from the Hunt-Lee Commission, a cross-sector, bipartisan group that didn’t set out to focus on early childhood. Instead, members wanted to find what education policy issues they could agree on. Support for early care and learning emerged as an area of consensus. The report includes practices that should be built upon, from NC Pre-K and child care subsidy to home visiting programs.

I’ll be covering the latest in the legislative session and spending more time in eastern North Carolina. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out with your ideas and questions.

Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

Here is child care capacity in NC compared with the need, by county

Don’t miss the map embedded in this piece, where you can explore the capacity each county’s child care network has to meet the needs of the youngest children and their families.

As one might guess, there is large variation in child care access across the state. Rural areas have the least capacity when compared with suburban and urban areas.

Polk, Alleghany, and Yancey have the least space for infants and toddlers compared with the number of children with working parents (programs in Polk have slots for 0% of infants and toddlers with working parents, Alleghany’s providers have 5%, and Yancey’s providers have 6%). The counties with the highest capacity are: Chowan (with space for 62% of young children with working parents), Washington at 47% and Robeson at 41%.

Early learning is the focus of a bipartisan effort to ‘build trust and forward momentum’

“North Carolina has a long history of early childhood leadership from Smart Start, to More at Four and now NC Pre-K, so it’s never a surprise to see it become a part of the policy conversation, but I think that the pandemic has also brought these issues very close to home for a lot of North Carolinians,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-New Hanover, in a statement. Lee served on the Hunt-Lee Commission.

“Based on the data the Commission reviewed, the importance of stable, high-quality early education experiences and a high-quality workforce have never been more apparent.”

Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives

Perspective | Is having a child in America becoming an unattainable privilege?

Sumera Syed, an organizational equity officer at the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, notes that in 2021, more people died than were born in more than half of North Carolina counties.

“… A growing share of childless adults cite financial reasons and economic instability as a deterrent for having children or choosing to have fewer children,” Syed writes. “Having children in today’s society is becoming a social privilege and unattainable for many.”

Perspective | Children in ‘fracturing society’ await legislative consensus

“The fate of the expanded child tax credit rests in Washington, where attention has been diverted to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a looming Supreme Court ruling on abortion,” writes EdNC board member Ferrel Guillory, in his weekly column.

“Meanwhile, in North Carolina, with its higher-than-anticipated revenue collections, an opportunity is at hand for Democrats and Republicans, business and education leaders, to forge a consensus for early childhood action in the legislative session that resumes next week.”

In other early learning news: What I’m reading

Research & Resources: Let's talk vaccines for our youngest

When it comes to navigating COVID information and decisions, I’ve turned time and time again to Emily Oster, economics professor at Brown University and author of books — and the newsletter ParentData — on parenting.

Most recently, her writing has helped us make sense of the confusing news surrounding vaccines for children under 5 years old. Moderna has sent an application to the FDA for authorization of its two-dose vaccine. Pfizer is supposed to do the same soon. The FDA could take up the decision on emergency authorization of Moderna’s vaccine as early as June 8.

What do we know about the company’s vaccine research? Adverse effects were mild or moderate in a trial of 4,200 2- to 6-year-olds and about 2,500 children ages six months to under 2 years. The rate of children who experienced fevers was lower in these age groups than for 6- to 11-year-olds. Efficacy numbers from the study “are in line with what we are seeing in older populations in the wake of Omicron,” Oster wrote: 44% in the youngest children, 37.5% in children 2 to 6 years old.

Dr. Peter Marks, an FDA representative, shared in a brief released by U.S. Representative James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, that the FDA won’t be waiting on Pfizer’s application and won’t stick to a previous requirement of 50% vaccine efficacy.

“This makes sense given that the current vaccine efficacy against symptomatic infection in older children and adults is below this, even as serious illness protection has been maintained,” Oster wrote.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.