'Zero options for our family'
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Katie Walden, a mom of three in Garner, quit her job when she couldn’t find an affordable preschool option for her son. Her family is now struggling to make ends meet from a single income.
“There were zero options for us,” Walden said last Monday on a press call to mark the release of a report on the state of preschool across the country. “Zero options for our family that was living right outside our state’s capital.”
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER)’s annual State of Preschool Yearbook showed North Carolina’s 24% drop in pre-K enrollment from 2020 to 2021. This decline the case in almost every state — and the first time pre-K enrollment declined in 20 years.
“The pandemic erased an entire decade of progress in preschool enrollment,” said Steven Barnett, NIEER’s senior co-director and founder. “Challenges such as health risks, closed classrooms, and remote preschool disrupted an already fragile system.”
North Carolina reached 19% of 4-year-olds in 2021, compared to a steady 25% in recent years. The state is not “within reach” of universal pre-K, the report says, noting 16 states serving close to or above 70% of 4-year-olds. Barnett wrote in The Washington Post about pre-existing issues of quality, staffing shortages, and insufficient state funding (which has not changed in 20 years when adjusted for inflation).
“Even if enrollment fully rebounds and we return to pre-pandemic rates of expansion, America will not provide access to preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds this century,” Barnett wrote. “Now is the time to invest the necessary resources to give every child — regardless of their Zip code — access to high-quality, affordable preschool.”
Walden highlighted the domino effects a lack of early care and education has on families and communities.
“The cry for universal preschool can be heard at every playground, in every single moms group, and other struggling parent groups on Facebook and beyond,” she said. “This pandemic has caused so many families to be without quality care for their children. And I live in a place just like so many others where companies are begging for employees, but how can you return to work or keep current positions when we don’t have affordable quality care for our children?”
Early Bird reads: What we’re writing
North Carolina ranked 26th in public preschool access among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in 2021 — the same spot it held in the 2020 report.
Yet the state served fewer children than years before, reaching about 19% of the state’s 4-year-olds compared with 25% in 2020. Nationally, 25% of 4-year-olds were enrolled in public pre-K in 2021.
A bipartisan, cross-sector commission released recommendations on how to move education forward in North Carolina. Six of the 16 recommendations were related to early learning and development.
I’ll have a story later this week diving deeper into the report’s ideas to strengthen the state’s early childhood infrastructure.
Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives
Banu Valladeres, the executive director of Charlotte Bilingual Preschool, urges us to keep quality in mind when expanding access to public early care and education.
A recent study from University of South Carolina and UNC-Charlotte found that students who attended the preschool, the only five-star bilingual early childhood program in the state, outperformed their Hispanic peers in reading and math into elementary school.
“Our children excel because we hire trained and certified dual-language early childhood teachers and teaching assistants, provide culturally relevant instruction and environments, and design purposeful family programs for members of their households,” Valladeres writes.
North Carolina has been working on improving data collection through children’s educational journeys and into their adult lives.
Mary Mathew, North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation’s collaboration and policy leader, brings us an update on data that matters for young children, including a school readiness measure in development.
In other early learning news: What I’m reading
Vaccines for Young Children - From The New York Times
The child care worker shortage is reaching crisis proportions nationally. Could Milwaukee provide the answer? - From The Hechinger Report
Black women turn to doulas as maternal mortality crisis deepens - From ABC News
New Mexico to offer a year of free child care to most residents - From The Washington Post
Research & Resources: Let's talk a map for innovative initiatives
Despite our challenges, there are a lot of people doing great work to support young children and families across the state. Wouldn’t it be great to keep track of more of that work?
The NC Early Childhood Foundation thought so too. The foundation released the first edition of its interactive Pathways Action Map last week. Eventually, the tool will include initiatives that support 44 goals that support these expectations of b-5 systems:
- Systems are data-driven and equitable.
- Systems serve children in the context of families and communities.
- The education system is accessible and high-quality.
- The social-emotional health system is accessible and high-quality.
This first release focuses on the last bullet point and includes 18 initiatives working to improve the social-emotional health system in the state, along with information on the initiatives’ impact, funding, and contacts.
“We imagine the Action Map being used by policy makers, funders, and advocates to learn about what’s happening in the action areas, and help build capacity through improved policy, practice, and investment,” writes Mary Mathew, the foundation’s collaboration and policy leader, in this release. “Families, communities, and initiatives can also use it to connect and help drive local action.