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Early Bird

What will kindergarten look like this year?

'It really depends on the child, the school, the district'

A Bailey Elementary kindergartner practices writing letters. Liz Bell/EducationNC

In Washington County Schools, superintendent Linda Carr does not yet know what last year’s kindergarten enrollment drops will mean for this year. The district’s kindergarten average daily membership (ADM) dropped 25% at the start of last school year. So far, enrollment has not made up for that loss this year.

Many districts across the state experienced the same as families “redshirted” their children rather than enrolling them in school. Statewide, kindergarten ADM fell by 15% last year — a larger decrease than any K-12 grade. Children are not legally required to enroll in school until age 7.

Going into this school year, whether enrollment will bounce back and where children who missed last year will end up are both still up in the air. The answers to those questions will be different across the state and will have implications on early grade class sizes, staffing needs, children’s learning experiences, and teachers’ workloads.

“It really depends on the child, the school, the district, how many numbers they’re allocated per teacher … per grade level,” said Amy Rhyne, director of the Office of Early Learning (OEL) at the Department of Public Instruction

Carr said she wants to encourage parents to enroll their young children in school. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of schooling for children. It is more than just the academics. There are many life lessons that come with being together with people. And in those early grades, you really learn how to share, how to get along, how to work as a team… Those are things you just can’t learn in your home when you’re by yourself.”

What are you seeing in your community and in your classrooms? Reply to this email and let me know. I’ll be following how these issues unfold in the coming weeks.

Early years at the GA: Updates from the legislature

There hasn’t been much early childhood movement at the General Assembly since the last Early Bird edition, with legislators taking a summer break last week. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, told NC Insider the House’s version of the budget “hopefully” will be released in the second week of August.

In case you missed it, early education advocates knocked on House members’ doors with two main budget requests earlier in July:

  • The statewide expansion of Child Care WAGE$, which are education-based supplements for early childhood teachers, directors, and family child care providers that provide incentive for staying at their centers. The program, administered by the Child Care Services Association (CCSA), reaches about 14% of early childhood teachers and is available in 58 counties, according to CCSA. The funds come from local Smart Start partnerships’ budgets. The NC Early Education Coalition, which organized the group, is asking for $35 million in recurring funds over the budget biennium.
  • The inclusion in the budget of House Bill 574, which would adopt a statewide floor for the state’s child care subsidy program. Read more here about what a subsidy floor would mean for the state’s child care providers that serve families through the program. The rates providers receive to participate are largely based on what parents privately paying for child care in the area can afford, leading to large differences in funding across the state. The bill would allocate $64 million in recurring funds in 2021-22 and $82 million in recurring funds in 2022-23.

Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

Kindergarten is starting soon with some big questions

“We may see an influx,” said Amy Rhyne, director of the Office of Early Learning (OEL) at the Department of Public Instruction, referring to a return by children who did not enroll last year. However, Rhyne said she has not heard of any unexpectedly large kindergarten cohorts so far.

“There is still a pervasive hesitation about returning to the building in this county,” said Linda Carr, superintendent of Washington County Schools. The district’s kindergarten ADM dropped 25% last year. So far, Carr said enrollment has not made up for that loss.

The mCLASS reading assessment tool is back in North Carolina classrooms, but it’s going to look different

School districts will receive training in the new version of mCLASS before the school year begins. Meanwhile, Amplify has created a web page detailing what mCLASS will look like, including a link to FAQs it created with DPI.

Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives

Perspective | Evaluating kindergarten readiness during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Hunt Institute offers guidance on how to assess incoming kindergartners after a school year of pandemic disruptions. Entry assessments “can help teachers tailor their instruction to meet children’s needs, inform families about children’s developmental progress, and guide state- and district-level decision-making.”

The piece recommends planning safe assessment administration, partnering with families, reconsidering the assessment items, and extending the assessment timeline.

In other early learning news: What I’m reading

Research & Resources: Let's talk achieving scale in early childhood

There’s something missing from the conversation around how to stabilize and strengthen child care, argues Louise Stoney, co-founder of Opportunities Exchange and the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance, in a new policy brief. Stoney says scale will be necessary for stabilization and higher wages for educators.

“Higher rates, enrollment-based finance, and slot contracts won’t stabilize the sector or support better wages if providers cannot secure skilled administrative staff and automated systems to manage finances and accountability reporting.”

Stoney recommends a “shared services lens,” using technology and centralized staff to take the burden of administrative and accountability tasks from providers. A “shared service alliance,” according to the Opportunities Exchange website, is “a framework or management structure that allows providers to pay attention to providing high quality teaching and learning (pedagogical leadership), while simultaneously making sure that business and administrative tasks are performed well (business leadership). In a Shared Services Alliance, multiple ECE sites pool needs and share resources in order to create both sustainable operations and quality programming.”

Through centralization, Stoney says revenues typically increase, providers can have access to specialized staff, and small sites can become more financially secure. Other public investments alone won’t solve the compensation problem, she says.

“We do not build schools with only four classrooms, a principal and an administrative staff, yet this is typical in child care and also the staffing model included in most ECE cost modeling methodologies. In short, if we want teachers to earn decent wages and have meaningful jobs, we need to challenge some long-held beliefs about program structure, roles, and responsibilities.”

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.