Will NC Cities and Counties Follow National Trend and Invest in Children?

December 2016

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By Lisa Finaldi

lisa-cropped-300x300This year communities across the country voted to locally fund more programs for children, including expanding prekindergarten access, family support services, and after-school programs. Voters raised revenue for these investments by approving ballot measures for sales and property tax increases, or taxes on sugary drinks.

In all, the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) counted 14 communities in 2016 that made a commitment to invest in children. We also counted three community efforts that failed and one statewide referendum in Missouri to tax cigarettes for revenue that did not pass.

Municipalities and counties across the United States are increasingly on the cutting edge of investing in early learning. Communities are recognizing the importance of investments in the well being of children for the vitality of the economy both now and for the future. They understand that when children have a strong start, they are more likely to be ready for school, read on grade-level, graduate from high school, and become part of our country’s productive workforce.

Many communities are increasing their reliance on local funding since demand for high-quality early learning programs outpaces access in many states. Prior to the flurry of activity in 2016, NCECF identified another 24 communities that invest locally in children. The states with the most local action include Florida, Colorado, California, and Missouri.

By the Numbers:

  • $1.3 million generated by voter approval in 2014 in Aspen and Pitkin counties, Colorado through sales tax for child care subsidy and professional development for child care providers.
  • $33.6 million for full-day pre-kindergarten for four-year olds from low-income families in San Antonio, Texas funded by a voter-approved sales tax earmark.
  • 11 cents per $1000 increase in property tax approved by voters in 2014 to fund the Seattle Preschool The increase provides approximately $14.5 million annually to serve 2000 children in 100 classrooms by 2018.
  • $8.3 Billion is the amount of annual lost wages of working families who don’t have access to high-quality, affordable child care.
  • 75 percent of mothers and 50 percent of fathers respectively in the US say they have passed up work opportunities, switched jobs, or quit to tend to their kids.

Will NC Communities Invest Locally in Young Children?

At home in North Carolina, Mecklenburg and Wake counties already invest in early learning through their county budgets. Mecklenburg is now looking to do more with business leaders investing in a study of universal prekindergarten. And in Durham, Forsyth, and Buncombe counties, communities are forming task forces and studying their options.

Buncombe:  A collaborative is working to ensure that every 3 and 4 year old in Buncombe County has access to affordable, high quality preschool, starting in 2018.

Durham: A task force established by the Durham Public Schools, the Durham City Council, and the Durham County Commission is creating a plan to serve all 3 and 4 year olds in the county in high quality preschool by 2023, starting with 4 year olds from low-income families by August 2019.

Forsyth: Since 2014, a steering committee has been working to fund an expansion of prekindergarten programs, provide extended learning options, and increase staff development and instructional support, beginning with the 2016–17 school year.

Currently in NC,  funding options include:

  • An item in a municipal or county budget
  • A local bond (usually for capital projects)
  • Increasing local sales tax
  • Raising the rate of property tax

As part of NCECF’s online local financing for early learning toolkit, you can read case studies from successful local efforts to fund children’s programs. And our map pins all the initiatives we located with links to read more.

Let us know if you know of other communities providing local financing for early learning. You can share the information at ncecf@buildthefoundation.org.

Lisa Finaldi is the Community Engagement Leader at the NC Early Childhood Foundation