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Early Bird

The legislators pushing child care solutions this session

'The dynamic has shifted.'

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Daniel Cook is a student at the Regional Center for the Advancement of Children at Haywood Community College. Photo by Liz Bell/EducationNC, Graphic by Cheyenne McNeill/EducationNC

We’ve been hard at work the past couple of months, diving into research from all 58 community colleges and looking forward to the start of the state’s new legislative session.

We published a large piece on why early childhood investments are critical for North Carolina’s economic future. We published a preview of what to expect in early childhood policy this session. And we published a Q&A with Sen. Jim Burgin, R-Harnett, Lee, Sampson, on why he is focused on early childhood as a Christian, conservative lawmaker.

I got the chance to sit down last week with Burgin and the rest of the early childhood caucus leadership: Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford; Rep. David Willis, R-Union; and Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake. They had spent the previous 36 hours at The Hunt Institute’s Holshouser Legislative Retreat to learn about and discuss a wide array of education issues.

They were all hopeful that early care and education had emerged as a chance for bipartisan problem-solving this session — particularly because of its connection to workforce participation and economic growth.

“What I found encouraging was the way we’ve talked about child care as a workforce and economic development issue,” Chaudhuri said. “… The fact is, we’re a high-growth state. We’ve recruited a lot of companies to the state, but we’re not going to be able to continue to have a prosperous economic development environment without solving the child care issue.”

Willis, who owns and operates a preschool program in Union County, said he believes more and more legislators are hearing from constituents — especially from parents and business owners.

“For the first time, we’ve kind of hit a point where it’s impacting everybody,” he said. “So every legislator across the state, regardless of what district they’re in, they’re feeling it.”

Willis said the most pressing challenge on the ground — and for the legislature — is supporting the early childhood teacher workforce.

“For the longest time, the conversation was, ‘We need to increase the number of seats in the NC Pre-K program and the subsidy programs, because we’ve got too many kids on the waitlist,'” Willis said. “Well, now we’ve got kids on the waitlist, that have the money, but they don’t have a classroom to go to. So in Union County alone, we’ve got two NC Pre-K programs that could be up and running. They just don’t have the teachers. And that’s that’s never happened. The dynamic has shifted, and I think that’s certainly been part of what’s been eye-opening for a lot of folks and, and hopefully will help us have an easier pathway to move legislation forward.”

We’ll be covering the legislature in the coming weeks, as well as on-the-ground stories. Reach out with questions or ideas.

Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives

Perspective | Why the Early Childhood Action Plan is vital for North Carolina’s future

Joshua Webb, student at Edgecombe Early College High School, argues that the Early Childhood Action Plan deserves more attention.

Stemming from an executive order by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2018, the plan has a vision and 10 measurable goals to make progress for young children and families. Yet not much has been said about the plan since its release in 2019.

“Ensuring that each child from birth through kindergarten and beyond has a sound basic education is vital to the functionality of our state,” Webb writes.


In other early learning news: What I’m reading

Research & Resources: Let's talk public pre-K in family child care

The PreK in Family Child Care Project (PKFCC) is a cross-state collaboration of researchers (including folks from the Equity Research Action Coalition at UNC-Chapel Hill) that is examining approaches to implementing public pre-K in family child care homes.

In North Carolina, NC Pre-K (the state’s program for at-risk 4-year-olds) exists in both public school districts and private child care centers. This project is looking at how to also include family child care homes, which are licensed early childhood programs that providers operate out of their homes. Including family child care homes could do two important things, the project says:

  • Expand equitable access to high-quality and stable early care and education, which we know is something North Carolina is lacking relative to communities’ needs.
  • Support the family child care workforce, which often receives less recognition and public funding while playing a key role in many parts of our state.

The number of family child care homes dropped by 30% from 2018 to 2021, compared to a 10% overall decline in early childhood programs. A September 2022 report from Louise Stoney, an expert on home-based care, provides key points on how North Carolina can support an important network of care.

The PKFCC project has all types of resources, both for policymakers and for family child care providers. Its new brief from December studies local and state policies and practices around provider compensation and qualifications and lifts up promising, equity-based examples.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.