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Perspective | The Build Back Better Act, state budget, and Leandro: Opportunities for young children in 2022

As 2021 comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the progress our state has made — and opportunities missed — to ensure every young child in North Carolina has a strong foundation for life-long health, education, and well-being supported by a comprehensive and equitable birth-to-eight ecosystem. In looking back at the enduring pandemic, influx of federal relief funds, greater focus on the science of reading, continued fight for racial justice, and more, we are reminded how this year has been one for the history books.

We’re highlighting three major developments that have the potential to impact the future of North Carolina’s children, residents, and economy in unprecedented ways: the Build Back Better Act, our state budget, and the Leandro Remedial Plan. Each can propel positive change in North Carolina if we ensure their implementation and work together to shift their shortcomings for young children and families. At the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, we’re hopeful for courageous action that will help to realize these and future investments.

Please join us in learning more about these developments below including some areas of overlap and opportunities to dig deeper with early childhood advocates. 

Build Back Better Act

The Build Back Better Framework announced by President Biden in October and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on November 19th can be one of the most transformative federal investments in early childhood in recent history. If enacted, it offers incredible opportunities for young children and families in our state and across the country, most importantly to lift families out of poverty.

InvestmentTotal $1.75 trillion across the U.S. including $400 billion for early childhood initiatives.
Early Childhood Highlights
  • Child Care: Makes high-quality child care more affordable by ensuring most families spend no more than seven percent of their household income on child care.
  • Preschool: Provides free, universal preschool for all three and four-year old children in a variety of settings.
  • Child Tax Credit: Extends the expanded child tax credit till 2022 and makes it permanently refundable, providing a long-term benefit to many low-earning families.
  • Paid Leave: Ensures qualifying working people and those preparing for work receive up to four weeks of paid family and medical leave.
  • Health Insurance Coverage: Extends Affordable Care Act tax credits in states that have not yet expanded Medicaid. Also, extends Medicaid coverage to 12-months postpartum and includes the Maternal Black Momnibus package to support maternal & infant health.
  • Other Areas: Addresses several other issues that impact families such as climate change, affordable housing, nutrition, and jobs.

  • The Build Back Better Act tackles the child care crisis in our country and state through policies and investments aimed at improving child care access, affordability, and quality. This includes a mixed delivery system that prioritizes parent choice and adequately compensates its workforce. Its impact is leveraged by expanded free and universal preschool built on existing federal and state programs. Given what we know from research and listening to parents and educators, if enacted and implemented in North Carolina, the benefits of the Build Back Better Act to families, providers, and the economy will be substantial and long-lasting.
    What’s NextBefore the Build Back Better Act becomes a reality, it needs to pass the U.S. Senate and be signed into law. North Carolina policy makers also need to decide if they will access the federal funds given match requirements and other considerations.
    Opportunities for ActionConnect with MomsRisingNC Child, and the NC Early Education Coalition to help advocate for the Build Back Better Act and its priorities. This includes listening to and engaging parents, educators, and others with lived experiences in these areas in decision-making. For example, according to a recent poll that included NC voters, we know that paid leave is popular across the political spectrum.
    Dig Deeper
  • First Five Years Fund: FAQ on Child Care and Preschool Provisions in Build Back Better Act
  • The Hunt Institute: Child Care and Prekindergarten in the Build Back Better Act. A Guide for Policymakers and Build Back Better Child Care Copayment Calculator
  • ZERO-TO-THREE: What’s In Build Back Better For Babies? 
  • North Carolina state budget

    For the first time since 2018, North Carolina has a biennium budget for 2021-23. The Conference Budget Proposal was released on November 15th, passed by the General Assembly, and signed into law by Governor Cooper on November 18th. While the budget falls considerably short in many areas impacting young children, it is an important step to continue operating and improving North Carolina’s early childhood ecosystem.

    InvestmentTotal $25.9 billion for 2021-22 and $27 billion for 2022-23 in North Carolina.
    Early Childhood Highlights
  • Smart Start: Includes $20 million in increased, recurring funds for Smart Start to continue strengthening North Carolina’s early childhood ecosystem.
  • Child Care: Provides $503 million in non-recurring, federal relief dollars to reduce the child care subsidy waitlist, cover parent copayment fees through 2021, develop child care databases and technology, and support some strategies to address teacher supply. Also includes $20 million in non-recurring American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to support start-up and capital grants for child care and NC Pre-K classrooms in child care deserts and low-performing or high poverty districts. Does not include funding to expand the Child Care WAGE$ program to all counties which supports needed increases in compensation for early childhood educators
  • Preschool: Uses state funds to provide a two percent per year increase in reimbursement rate for NC Pre-K, with an intended focus on salaries for providers in private child care programs. No additional funds are included to expand NC Pre-K slots.   
  • Public Education: Includes $762 million for early childhood and K-12 education, less than half of the full funding required by the Leandro Plan for the first two years (see below).
  • Teacher Pay: Raises teacher pay by an average of five percent over two years in most, but not all, school districts. Also maintains the current teacher salary schedule which offers limited increases for teachers with more than 15 years of experience. Provides some recurring funds for a teacher salary supplement focused on low-wealth counties. 
  • Hold Harmless Provision: Stabilizes funding for school districts regardless of changes in student enrollment due to the pandemic.
  • Health Insurance Coverage: Does not expand Medicaid coverage in North Carolina, or merge the NC Health Choice program with Medicaid. Does use non-recurring ARPA funds to extend Medicaid coverage for mothers to 12-months postpartum and parents who temporarily lose custody of their children. 
  • Child Tax Deduction: Increases child tax deduction by $500 per child.
  • Lead Abatement: Provides $150 million in non-recurring funds for lead abatement in child care programs and public schools. 
  • Other Areas: Includes funding to support children with disabilities, school instructional support personnel, and broadband expansion, though far from Leandro requirements. Also supports charter school approval and voucher programs.

  • A major loss is the budget’s failure to fully fund the first two years of the Leandro Plan. Decisions to eliminate corporate income taxes — instead of meeting the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a sound, basic education to all North Carolina children — not only continue barriers, but limit future revenue opportunities to fund these and other areas.

    Many of the budget’s shortcomings will continue to deepen inequities experienced by children and families of color, children with disabilities, families living in rural areas, and others most impacted by systemic barriers. We are hopeful that some of the missed areas in the state budget, like Medicaid expansion and equitable education funding, may be supported by the Build Back Better Act and advocacy efforts.
    What’s NextThe budget is signed and ready to be implemented. Some legislative committees will continue discussing specific issues. Efforts to support action around Leandro funding are ongoing.
    Opportunities for ActionContact your legislators to advocate for Medicaid expansion with NC Child, worthy wages for early educators with the NC Early Education Coalition, and equitable funding for public education with Every Child NC.
    Dig Deeper
  • EdNC: At long last, a budget. What does it mean for K-12 and early childhood education?
  • NC Child: 2021 Legislative Session Left Plenty of Unfinished Business for Kids
  • NC Early Education Coalition: Statement on NC State Budget
  • Public School Forum Budget Analysis

    Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan

    The Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan, released in March 2021, outlines what is required by the state to meet its constitutional obligation to ensure all North Carolina children have the opportunity to receive a sound, basic education, starting in early childhood. The Plan details the policy changes and budgetary provisions that are to be instituted by the NC legislature over the next eight years to ensure this obligation is met and that our children are prioritized. Learn about the longstanding Leandro case and its journey so far from Education NC. 

    InvestmentTotal $5.6 billion over an eight-year period in North Carolina, including approximately $1.7 billion for the first two years. 
    Early Childhood Highlights
  • Smart Start: Increases Smart Start funding to improve the state’s early childhood system infrastructure and continuum of services for families in local communities. 
  • Early Intervention: Improves and expands access to early intervention for children ages birth to three with developmental delays or special needs provided by the NC Infant Toddler Program. 
  • Child Care: Increases funding to eliminate the child care subsidy waitlist and makes improvements to the subsidy program. Also, expands the Child Care WAGE$ program to all counties and supports other strategies to strengthen the early educator pipeline.
  • Preschool: Expands NC Pre-K to all eligible four-year-olds through incremental rate and slot increases.
  • School Readiness: Supports efforts that ensure quality transitions and alignment from early learning programs to K-3 classrooms. 
  • Public Education Financing and Teacher Pay: Funds several efforts to build an adequate, equitable, and efficient public education finance system. One of the most significant changes would be increasing salaries for teachers and instructional support staff by five percent in FY22 and incrementally after that based on a study. Principal and assistant principal salaries would also increase accordingly.
  • Workforce Development: Expands initiatives that support the development, recruitment, and retention of diverse and qualified teachers and principals, such as Partnership TEACH and the NC Principal Fellows Program, especially in high need districts. 

  • The Leandro case began in 1994 and continues to drag on. Full funding and implementation of the Leandro Plan is necessary to meet the state’s constitutional obligation. The Plan includes several important early learning and education strategies from birth to grade three that align with the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Action Framework and other early childhood initiatives. See resources below to learn more about Leandro’s early childhood priorities. 
    What’s NextIn response to a state budget proposal and its failure to include full funding for the first two years of the Leandro Plan, on November 10th Judge Lee ordered the state to transfer $1.7 billion to the agencies responsible for implementing the Plan. This order was denied by the NC Court of Appeals on November 30th following an appeal from the State Controller. It’s uncertain what will happen next, but it’s possible it may progress to the NC Supreme Court.
    Opportunities for ActionJoin the movement led by Every Child NC; a community-led, statewide coalition of organizations, parents, teachers, and students advocating for equitable funding in public education. Explore their tools and resources to use at the state-level and in your community. 
    Dig Deeper
  • Every Child NC: Student Issues—Early Childhood Education
  • NC Budget and Tax Center: Comparison of Leandro, House, Senate & Conference Budgets
  • NC Early Childhood Foundation: Leandro Moves Forward With Release of Comprehensive Plan for Next Eight Years, Including Significant Investments in Early ChildhoodNC Early Education Coalition: Leandro v. State of NC
  • And so the work continues. Will you join us?

    Mary Mathew

    Mary Mathew is the Collaboration and Policy Leader at the NC Early Childhood Foundation. She co-leads various efforts aimed at improving child and family wellbeing and early childhood systems in North Carolina such as the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative, EarlyWell Initiative, NC Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, and NC Early Childhood Data Advisory Council.