'The dynamic has shifted.'
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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 years at the GA: Updates from the legislature
Go here for the full early childhood legislative preview. Early childhood proposals will likely include:
- Continued stabilization.
As federal relief funds dry up, many are concerned programs won’t be able to maintain teacher wage increases, either leading to teachers leaving or programs increasing parent fees. This is particularly concerning in rural areas and low-income communities, Willis said.
- Boosts for pre-existing programs like NC Pre-K, the subsidy program, and Smart Start.
The public funds that make about 40% of the funding for early childhood programs in North Carolina have limited reach relative to the needs of children and families. There will likely be asks for higher NC Pre-K rates and teacher pay, higher subsidy rates overall and a floor rate to level the distribution of funding, and increases to Smart Start’s budget.
- Teacher wage supplements aimed at retention.
As in past sessions, advocates are pushing for the expansion of WAGE$, a program that provides education-based wage supplements to teachers in participating programs. Right now, local Smart Start partnerships decide whether or not to use their own local budgets to fund the program. Advocates want to create a separate funding source for the program and ensure statewide access.
- New models for financing child care.
Policymakers will hear about local approaches in places such as Yadkin and Ashe counties. They’re also looking toward Michigan’s Tri-Care model, which splits the cost of child care between employers, employees, and state government.
- Supports for infant and maternal health.
Burgin is backing a recommendation from the Child Fatality Task Force that requests funds to increase the Medicaid reimbursement rate for obstetric care providers and covers doula services and group prenatal care, strategies aimed at reducing infant and maternal mortality disparities.
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
The problem child care subsidies can’t solve: the shrinking provider pool - From The Hechinger Report
Could a worker subsidy program entice early childhood educators? - From Hawaii Public Radio
‘A huge, huge problem:’ Child care crunch hard on community - From Norfolk Daily News
The Summer-Camp Feeding Frenzy Has Already Begun - From The Atlantic
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.