Three ways state legislators can get child care on track in North Carolina

Early childhood education priorities for the 2022 legislative session

By: Elizabeth Byrum | May 2022

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Every parent in every corner of North Carolina deserves the chance to choose early childhood education that will give their children a strong start for happy, healthy lives and greater school success. Almost every family struggles to find and pay for the child care they need – and that really limits how many of our kids get the benefit of great early learning programs. Stronger investments in early education will give more young children the opportunity to grow, learn, and succeed. 

NC Child and our partners in early childhood education have created a shared set of policy priorities for our state legislators this session. Our focus is on building a statewide system of early care and learning that gives every child a shot at strong early education and every family a chance to get the care they need to work and support their families. 

Making child care accessible

Young children deserve high-quality early learning, which lays the foundation for success in school and in life. Child care subsidies help provide early learning opportunities to working families. Subsidies also make child care available in many low-income communities where there would otherwise be none.  

Raising subsidy rates from the 2015 level to the 2018 level and establishing a statewide floor for subsidy rates would create greater equity between rural and urban areas. Improved rates help child care programs keep their doors open to serve more families in their communities. We estimate that the cost of a new child care subsidy rate structure is about $73 million per year.

Staffing up for early care & learning

Children thrive in early education programs when they have stable, reliable relationships with their teachers. But a statewide shortage of child care teachers is making it hard to even keep classrooms open. The child care WAGE$ program improves teacher recruitment and retention, and expanding it could help stabilize the early education workforce, supporting early educators who pursue degrees in early education. Expanding the proven WAGE$ program to all 100 counties would require an annual appropriation of $36 million.  

Making child care affordable

The NC General Assembly should double down on effective strategies to stabilize and expand the child care industry, so that all children and families in every county have access to affordable choices for high-quality early learning. This includes ongoing and increased investments for Smart Start, NC Pre-K, and Child Care Subsidy Assistance for working families.  

Together, these policies will improve young children’s development and learning, support family economic security, and prepare today’s children for tomorrow’s jobs. In addition, these policies support businesses across the state that depend on their employees having child care in order to work.   

Gratitude for the Child Care Stabilization grants

Federal relief dollars have been essential in keeping many of our state’s child care programs afloat during the ongoing pandemic. Unfortunately the child care sector was unstable long before 2020. Only a fraction of eligible children in our state get the benefits of a high-quality early education. As these stabilization grants run out, state legislators should target investments in effective child care and early education programs with an eye towards long-term sustainability. 

Preparing for the legislative session

Last week, Governor Cooper released his recommended budget adjustments. We are pleased to see that the Governor’s budget proposal includes several investments that align with our early childhood education priorities. As the North Carolina General Assembly begins the 2022 session, policies that support and sustain our child care system should also be high on their agenda. 

Early childhood education prepares children to be ready for kindergarten and beyond.  You only get one chance at learning the fundamentals – how to read, how to talk, how to think. Studies indicate that early childhood education programs set kids up for success in kindergarten, reading at grade level, and high school graduation on time. 

The child care sector needs increased, sustained investments so that early learning programs across the state are there for all North Carolina children and families – now and in the future.   

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