Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

Early Bird

The state legislature is back in session

'The emergency that we’ve been talking about is here'

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. 

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this edition stated that NC Pre-K is funded with federal funds. It is funded by both state and federal funds.

Last week marked the start of the short legislative session. That means legislators are making tweaks to the budget they passed last year. They can also take up bills that passed at least one chamber last year. As Early Bird readers know, the session comes at an uncertain time for child care across the state — with as many as a third of providers expecting to close after federal funding ends in June.

“The emergency that we’ve been talking about is here,” said Erin Carson, director of the state chapter of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

I started the week off Sunday facilitating conversations on the funding cliff and other challenges and opportunities in the field between early childhood professionals (in the photo above) and legislators at the Hunt Institute’s Holshouser legislative retreat. It was an honor to witness the educators share their experiences and needs.

On Wednesday, the session started. On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper released his budget proposal. I wrote a preview outlining what’s at stake this session, and EdNC’s Senior Reporter Hannah Vinueza McClellan unpacked Cooper’s budget. Next, the House and Senate each will release a proposal and work together to approve a compromise.

Early childhood advocates’ top priority is a one-time $300 million allocation to extend compensation grants and avoid child care closures and further price increases for parents. This is the same amount they pushed for last year without success. Cooper’s budget asks for $200 million for the same purpose.

Of course a one-time investment sets up another cliff for the system. The proposals that look to long-term strategies to increase access, affordability, and quality include:

  • Establishing a subsidy floor.
    That would level the playing field for programs serving children whose families receive subsidy assistance to pay for child care. Right now, the amount programs receive varies widely depending on what parents in a given county can afford. Advocates are asking for $95 million annually. Cooper is asking for $128.5 million for the same purpose.
  • Funding the full cost of NC Pre-K.
    Cooper’s budget proposes $197 million annually to fully fund NC Pre-K, the state’s preschool program for at-risk 4-year-olds. Right now, the state only covers less than half of the cost (with a mix of state and federal funds). And with pandemic relief expiring, the rates providers receive to operate the program will be returning to pre-pandemic levels. That means NC Pre-K classrooms will see an average annual decrease of $3,860, according to a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Expanding Smart Start funding.
    Advocates are calling for an annual $10 million for the Smart Start network, which provides support for the early childhood system and administers a variety of programs and funding at the local level for families with young children.
  • Covering the cost of child care for child care teachers.
    Although many child care teachers already receive discount rates for their own children to enroll at the program, some advocates and legislators are considering using state money to further subsidize this cost. This is an item on the NC Licensed Child Care Association’s list. Cooper’s budget asks for an annual $25 million to provide “free or reduced cost care for the children of roughly 2,200 child care providers,” the proposal says.
  • Tax breaks for child care providers.
    Sen. Jim Burgin, R-Harnett, co-chair of the early childhood caucus, mentioned using tax policy to incentivize new child care programs in an interview with EdNC as a longer-term strategy to fund child care.
  • Public-private partnerships.
    There is growing momentum among local and state business owners and chambers of commerce interested in solving child care issues for their employees and the larger workforce. The two-year Tri-Share pilot, funded during last year’s session and launching in three regions this year, provides a strategy for businesses to do so. The program splits the cost of child care between participating businesses, eligible employees, and the state. Cooper’s proposal asks for a one-time $400,000 to add a fourth region to the pilot.

More from EdNC on early childhood

Ahead of child care financial crisis in June, advocates call for relief from legislature

As federal funds stabilizing child care run out at the end of June, child care advocates are asking state legislators...

Governor's budget proposes 8.5% average pay raise for teachers, master's pay

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper presented his $34.5 billion budget proposal for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024-25 on Wednesday, calling for approximately...

North Carolina forecasts one-time $987 million budget surplus

Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 13 at 11 a.m. to include the state’s most revised revenue forecast. The...

Perspective | Leap Ahead: Plan now for summer learning

Hop into summer with the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) and gear up to make summer reading a “ribbiting”...

Chirp! Chirp! Opportunities to share your voice

What do you want from this short session? Are the proposals at play in line with your needs? Reply to this email and let us know.

The big picture for little kids

Taking flight! Opportunities to spread your wings

  • Child Care for North Carolina - From National Domestic Workers Alliance, NC chapter

    NDWA is coordinating a legislative rally on May 16. From the organizer: “The Child Care for NC coalition is bringing providers, parents, and supporters from across the state together to demand our leaders solve the child care crisis before a June funding cliff.”

  • A Salary Scale Toolkit for Supporting the use of Salary Scales in Early Childhood Programs - From NC Institute for Child Development Professionals

    This toolkit provides background and implementation information on salary scales for early childhood educators. It also includes a free interactive tool for any provider to plug in their expenses and create a salary scale that works for them.

  • Collaborative Problem Solving Workshop: Policies & Practices that Minimize Child Care and Preschool Exclusion - From NC Early Childhood Foundation

    Thursday, May 9 | 6-8 pm

    From the host: ” This workshop is directed toward providers, teachers, and technical assistance specialists who are working to support children exhibiting challenging behaviors and minimize the use of short- or long-term removal from the program in response to behavior challenges.”

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.