Gov. Cooper announces $56 million in federal early childhood grants

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Thursday that $56 million in federal grant funds over seven years will go to early educator professional development, home visiting programs, and increased access to health services for children.

“We know that the science is absolutely overwhelming that what you do … is so important, and we’re very grateful for the work that you’re doing,” Cooper said to a room full of early childhood teachers at Bright Beginnings Child Development Center in Cary.

“We have to look at the whole child, their situation at home, their health care or lack there of, whether they might be having problems at home with people having substance abuse,” Cooper said.

Both grants were awarded to the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The first is a $40.2 million Preschool Development Grant (PDG) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The second, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), will give the state up to $16 million.

The PDG grant will support on-site coaching for early educators as well as scholarships for teachers looking to pursue more education, said Susan Perry, DHHS deputy secretary.

This grant will also fund a partnership between Smart Start, the state’s network of local early childhood organizations, and Family Connects, a home visiting program. Family Connects, created by Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy, visits families with newborns one to three times, assesses children’s needs, and connects families to resources and early education options.

The second CMS grant, according to a press release by Gov. Cooper’s office, will implement Integrated Care for Kids, a model that coordinates education, health, and housing needs for Medicaid-insured children.

Danielle Fitzgerald, an NC Pre-K teacher at Bright Beginnings, said her education — including a master’s degree and B-K license — left her with $100,000 in debt.

“NC Pre-K teachers, we don’t make the same that public school teachers make,” Fitzgerald said during Thursday’s press conference with Cooper. “And it’s a little bit, like, why? Because we have a license, too. We go through the same thing.”

According to May 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the average annual wage for preschool teachers in North Carolina was $28,260. The average salary for child care teachers in the state was $22,940. Pay for early childhood and preschool teachers varies based on the center and the teacher’s level of education.

“We need to get the pay up,” Cooper said to Fitzgerald. “We’re going to continue to fight for supplemental pay.”

Liz Bell is an early learning reporter for EducationNC.

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