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Early Bird

What we're expecting in 2024

Happy New Year!

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. 

A student at Kids Campus in Santa Fe, a child care program attached to a community college. Liz Bell/EducationNC

Katie and I wrapped up 2023 in New Mexico on our final of five Learning Adventures, trips to other states leading the way in early childhood policy and investment.

Watch out this week for a story on how New Mexico has established permanent public funding streams for early care and education, and what challenges the state’s leaders are still grappling with.

We got snow in Santa Fe.

Later this month, we’re bringing you overarching lessons for North Carolina from all five states. Go here for stories from Michigan, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Oregon. And join our Facebook group and follow Katie’s Instagram to keep up with our work and travel throughout the year.

In the meantime, we’re looking at the upcoming year and what we’re expecting in news and policy impacting early care and education.

The biggest date on our calendars is June 30. That’s when federal funding that is propping up North Carolina’s child care programs will expire.

Michelle Laws, a teacher at Early Head Start of Alexander County, plays with Play-Doh with students.

In the absence of state or federal intervention, experts predict higher parent fees, staffing challenges, and site closures. We’ll be tracking closures by county with data from the NC Child Care Resource and Referral Council and the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE).

The NC Child Care Commission is redesigning the way the state measures and rates the quality of licensed child care. The group will send recommendations on changes to the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) during the short legislative session, which will start April 24.

Students enjoy music at Rock & Roll Daycare in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

That short session will be another opportunity for early childhood advocates to push for funding and policies to support early learning. The bipartisan co-chairs of the early childhood caucus said in November that funding to extend compensation grants will be their top priority.

“If we don’t deal with the pay issue of child care workers, we can’t do anything else,” said Sen. Jim Burgin, R-Harnett, during a panel at the NC Early Education Coalition’s annual convening.

This is an election year for state, presidential, and congressional offices. We will be asking candidates and current lawmakers where they stand on issues related to early childhood policy.

Katie stands on the bank of the Detroit River in Michigan, with Canada on the other side.

DCDEE is set to release a report this month on potential changes to the state’s child care subsidy system. The division contracted with the American Institute of Research to explore alternate ways to calculate how much child care programs should receive to serve children through subsidy assistance. Studies like these have been many states’ first step in paying programs closer to the true cost of care rather than the rate parents can afford.

DCDEE and the North Carolina Partnership for Children will also soon release the three counties they chose to participate in a two-year pilot modeled on Michigan’s Tri-Share program, which splits the cost of child care among participating employers, eligible employees, and state government. The state budget says the funding for this program ($900,000 each year) must be distributed to the local Smart Start partnerships facilitating the program evenly between this fiscal year and the next.

I speak with Ilia Gilligan, leader of the Families of Color Advisory Committee at Let’s Grow Kids in Burlington, Vermont.

We also are following advocacy and philanthropic efforts across the state — Dogwood Health Trust’s early childhood workforce efforts in the West, the Ready for School, Ready for Life initiative in Guilford County, universal pre-K efforts in several counties, the EarlyEd FlexPlex model in Yadkin County, East Coast Migrant Head Start sites supporting agricultural workers and their families, and five promising models aimed at reducing early childhood suspensions and expulsions.

We can’t wait for another year lifting up your stories, finding solutions, and pushing conversations forward. Thank you for all you do.

More from EdNC on early childhood

Oregon's regional 'Primeros Pasos' brings together sectors to build child care for Latino communities

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As sites close in North Carolina, ‘a new era of child care’ begins in Vermont

On a recent Wednesday in Burlington, Vermont, a teacher blew bubbles over two infants lying side by side, of the...

Exploring the nexus of religious and public schools

Last week in Boston, in the garden of a Catholic church that is 152 years old and a school that...

Advice from Michigan to North Carolina on how to split child care cost between government, business, and parents

Editor’s Note: Katie Dukes contributed reporting. North Carolina soon will launch a pilot at three local Smart Start partnerships based...

Chirp! Chirp! Opportunities to share your voice

Data sources on the state’s child care programs are imperfect. If there’s a site closure impacting your community, please let us know. If you are a provider navigating challenging decisions, we’d love to hear your story. Reply to this email.

The big picture for little kids

Taking flight! Opportunities to spread your wings

  • A webinar on maternity care deserts - From USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism

    Jan. 31, 2 pm ET

    ‘Dangerous Deliveries’: The Spread of America’s Maternity Care Deserts

    From the organizer: “In this webinar, we’ll hear from two reporters who have extensively reported on America’s maternity care crisis and the unequal harms suffered by pregnant women of color and their children.”


  • An MLK celebration of books - From Book Harvest

    January 15, 1-4 pm in Durham

    Dream Big 2024: Book Harvest’s MLK Day Book Drive & Community Celebration

    From the organizer: “Every year on MLK Day, we celebrate the power of community and our big dream of books and literacy for all kids with our biggest event of the year: Dream Big! The celebration is part book drive, part volunteer event, part community partner fair, part festival, and all party and fun!”

  • A moment for dad leadership - From National Center for Family and Parent Leadership

    Jan. 18, noon ET

    Recruiting & Engaging Fathers as Parent Leaders

    From the organizer: “Dads matter! Their involvement in the lives of their children, as well as advocating for children and involvement in decision-making for services for children is critical, valuable, and much needed. Too often, early childhood programs and systems leave dads out, excluding them either by overlooking them or undervaluing their abilities, contributions, and interest. Join this webinar to learn about effective ways to recruit and engage fathers as you work to embed family and parent leadership.”
  • A job opportunity as a 'child care business liaison' - From NC Department of Commerce

    From the job description: “The Childcare Business Liaison is responsible for:

    a) identifying meaningful ways in which employers can help build the infrastructure of quality early childhood education, including resources for businesses, policy opportunities or other strategies to encourage/incentivize employer engagement.

    b) bringing the data and expertise from DHHS and Commerce together to develop and implement solutions.

    c) serving as a liaison between the state agencies, employers and philanthropy; and

    d) researching successful efforts elsewhere (e.g. Michigan Tri-Share) and helping to discern feasibility of such programs for North Carolina.”

  • Grants for Western NC child care - From Dogwood Health Trust

    From Dogwood: “The majority of our grant investments will be made through our Strategic Priority Grant Opportunity in the first half of the year.” Applications are now open.

    Included in the organization’s 2024’s priorities are:

    • “Continue to support two ECE Workforce cohorts.
    • Make exploratory/learning investments into family-centered early childhood education in homes and community spaces.”
Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.