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Early Bird

Our 2022 early childhood must-reads

See you in the new year.

Our Early Bird team doubled this year (!!) as EdNC welcomed Katie Dukes, 11-year high school teacher turned early childhood policy analyst. I tried my best to transfer all the things you all have taught me about North Carolina early care and education to Katie. She offered fresh eyes and new motivating energy to our early childhood research and reporting. And we’re excited for all that is to come in 2023.

First, a look back on the past year.

We’re super proud to write stories about issues affecting our youngest learners and those who support them. Here are some of those pieces we don’t want you to miss:

Katie’s top three

  1. EdNC Toolkit: Best practices for supporting students who have experienced the death of a caregiver
    Katie shares strategies and resources for teachers, administrators, families, and communities to help children with the process of grieving, accumulated from months of reporting on best practices across the state.
  2. Beaufort Elementary students learn how to grieve
    This powerful story of local leaders proactively guiding elementary students through the experience of losing a beloved music teacher is one of the aforementioned best practices Katie uncovered.
  3. Pre-K suspensions and expulsions can have dire effects — but we don’t know how common they are
    Though we know anecdotally that young students are being harmed by exclusionary discipline in early childhood settings, understanding the problem is difficult without solid data. Katie explains why these practices hurt children and why we need a better way to track these incidents.

Liz’s top three

  1. Here is child care capacity in North Carolina compared with need, by county
    Check out a county-by-county map that shows licensed programs’ capacity to serve infants and toddlers — and a breakdown of why that capacity is so low.
  2. With no action before funds dry up, some child care programs ‘will not be able to survive,’ providers say
    This has been the overarching story of child care in North Carolina since the pandemic. A temporary lifeline has been thrown to an already fragile system without a plan for what’s next. That’s still the case.
  3. Can passing a test, instead of a course, boost the number of early childhood teachers without sacrificing quality?
    Legislation this past session gave another option for individuals to work in early childhood classrooms that are struggling to find teachers. But many advocates already thought that bar was too low (one community college course). This story touches on many of the state’s challenges caused by low pay for valuable work and the market failure of child care.

For more on what 2022 meant for early care and education in North Carolina, scroll to the bottom of this newsletter. EdNC will be out until the first week of January. Happy holidays, Early Bird readers! Thank you for reading in 2022. We’ll see you in the new year.

Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives

Perspective | Is paid family and medical leave in the future for North Carolinians?

Among those with the lowest incomes in North Carolina, just 7% have access to paid leave from their jobs.

Melea Rose-Waters, policy director for Prevent Child Abuse NC, explains who has access to paid medical and family leave and why it matters for families and children.

On top of paid leave leading to higher employee productivity, less stress, and more financial security, paid leave is also a prevention strategy for child abuse and neglect, Rose-Waters writes.

A new report from Prevent Child Abuse NC found most state policymakers understand the benefits of paid leave but disagree on exactly how it should be structured, with concerns around negative impacts for small businesses.

Perspective | Action Map spotlights initiatives advancing accessible and high-quality education system

The NC Early Childhood Foundation released an action map, a tool to find initiatives and organizations working toward a reality where “all North Carolina children, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, are reading on grade-level by the end of third grade.”

That’s a big vision. The foundation has broken that goal into categories called “expectations” that will move the state toward that vision:

  • Systems are family-driven and equitable.
  • Systems serve children in the contexts of families and communities.
  • Education system is accessible and high-quality.
  • Social-emotional health system is accessible and high-quality.

There are more specific actions in each of those expectations. This action map is centered on the third expectation — that education is accessible and high-quality — and includes 22 actions and who in the state is working on those actions. Check it out here.

In other early learning news: What I’m reading

Research & Resources: Let's talk what happened this year

The Alliance for Early Success has snapshots, both national and for each state, of early childhood environments and progress in 2022. North Carolina’s page shows a complicated picture heading into a new year and legislative session.

Some main takeaways (plus some of my own observations):

  • The organization considers the state’s racial disparity among children living in poverty high.
    • 67% of Hispanic/Latinx children younger than 8 were living 200% below the poverty line in 2020, compared with 64% of Indigenous/Alaska Native children, 62% of Black children, 50% of Hawaii Native/Other Pacific Island children, 30% of white children, and 25% of Asian children.
  • The overall percentage of young children living in poverty is down in recent years, at 45% compared with 52% in 2015.
  • There were some policy wins:
    • The budget merged the state’s NC Health Choice program with NC Medicaid, which particularly helps children with special health care needs get the care they need.
    • The legislature raised child care subsidy rates from 2015 to 2018 rates with federal relief funds, and the state started studying how to restructure its subsidy model to reflect the true cost of high-quality early care and education.
    • The state allocated an additional $9 million in recurring funds to raise NC Pre-K rates by 9% since 2020-21, aimed at increasing salaries for teachers in private settings.
  • There’s lots more to do.
    • There were no funds appropriated for early childhood teacher compensation as the workforce struggled.
      • Though the Division of Child Development and Early Education extended some compensation support through the end of next year, the legislature hasn’t appropriated state funds to fill gaps as stabilization funds run dry and classrooms close.
    • There were no funds for a subsidy floor.
      • Advocates have pushed in recent legislative sessions for funds to provide a floor rate to child care providers serving children on subsidy. This would get rid of some of the disparities in resources that programs in lower-income and rural communities have to serve children with high-quality care and education.
    • There was no action around new ways to fund child care.
      • Though a bipartisan group came up with ideas on how to increase access to affordable child care, including grants for centers to open infant/toddler classrooms and increases in the subsidy rates for the youngest children, no legislative action followed.
Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.