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With a House budget in the works, advocates push for wage supplements, subsidy changes

'We didn’t come here to take the day off of work'

Blair Cox, community engagement and development coordinator at the Partnership for Children of Wayne County, heads to the legislative office building for a meeting with a representative. Liz Bell/EducationNC

As the legislative session extends through the summer, a group of early education advocates descended upon the legislative building last week, knocking on the office doors of every House member with early childhood budget requests.

Legislators passed the Senate budget proposal in June. Now that it’s the House’s turn to release its plan, the advocates, organized by the NC Early Education Coalition, are pushing for two main items:

  • The statewide expansion of the Child Care WAGE$ program, which provides education-based wage supplements to low-paid teachers, center directors, and family child care providers.
  • The subsidy proposal within House Bill 574, which would raise the rates child care providers receive to serve families through the subsidy program and ensure providers receive at least the statewide average rate.

“We need funding now,” said Cassandra Brooks, director of Little Believer’s Academy, a child care program with locations in Clayton and Garner. “We didn’t come here to take the day off of work, for nothing, and not keeping our children. We need money.”

To learn more about these issues, check out past Early Bird pieces on low early educator compensation and the uneven distribution of subsidy funds across the state.

Meanwhile, child tax credit payments started landing in families’ bank accounts last week. The monthly payments will last until December, and most families can receive $250 per month for each child 6-17 years old and $300 per month for each child under 6 years old. Families will receive the other half of the credit next spring.

If families did not file their taxes in 2019 or 2020, or receive stimulus payments in 2020, they must fill out this IRS tool to receive the credit. Go here for more details on eligibility and resources to help navigate the form.

“It will make a big difference,” said Marsha Basloe, president of the nonprofit Child Care Services Association. This year, experts predict the expanded credit will benefit. “But if we can continue it, the overall impact on child poverty will be just unbelievable.”

Below, don’t miss updates on a tool from the Center for American Progress that calculates the true monthly cost of child care by state, age, setting, and program qualities.

As summer winds down and the school year starts, EdNC wants to know what stories and issues you all, Early Bird readers, want us to cover in the coming year. Take this short survey and let us know.

And as always, feel free to reply directly with questions and tips, or just to connect. Thank you for all you do for our youngest learners.


Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

Child tax credit payments have started. Here’s what you need to know.

In North Carolina, 92% of children under 18 years old — about 2.09 million children — could benefit from the expansion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research and policy institute. An estimated 137,000 children younger than 18 across the state could be lifted above the poverty line.

Early education advocates show up to House members’ offices with budget requests

“We can’t do it overnight. The system has got to change, but in the meantime, WAGE$ will support those teachers remaining in the field,” said Cyndie Osborne, a former early educator who said supplements from the Child Care WAGE$ program helped her stay in the field she loved.

Osborne was one of about 30 educators and advocates speaking with legislators last week in hopes of seeing early education items in the House budget like a statewide expansion of the wage supplements Osborne received.


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In other early learning news: What I’m reading


Research & Resources: Let's talk the true cost of child care

The Center for American Progress (CAP) updated its 2018 tool that calculates the true per-child cost of child care for different age groups in both center and home-based settings. The tool asks you to select a state, and then leads you through options in “designing an early educational experience.”

Each option one toggles on is reflected in the monthly per child cost, from increasing teacher salaries to increasing resources for classroom materials. In North Carolina, monthly care for an infant costs $1,155. If one chooses to “pay teachers the same as kindergarten teachers,” the cost goes to $1,442. Add a teacher-child ratio decrease, and the cost goes to $1,719.

Simon Workman, director for early childhood policy at CAP, explains the tool and what it says about child care across the country in this Q&A from the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity. The tool is based on current salaries and minimum state licensing standards. “It’s even more if you’re talking about a better system that pays better salaries and benefits,” Workman says.

CAP found state subsidies, on average, cover 75% of the true cost of care. Workman calls pre-pandemic child care a broken market:

“However, even before the pandemic, the child care market was a broken market in which providers in most communities could not charge families what it truly costs to provide quality care because families simply couldn’t afford it. As a provider, you end up setting your rate at the level the market will bear, at the level that families in your community can afford to pay. And that level was often too low.”

Though the true cost might rise as we come out of the pandemic, Workman says he’s not sure providers will pass on those costs to families who simply can’t afford it. Instead, providers might go out of business or sacrifice quality, he says. Workman says sustainable, significant funding is needed to get money in the pockets of educators and guarantee access to affordable child care.

 

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.