Hunt-Lee education group ideas focus on early childhood

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  • For @ascubbage of @ncsmartstart, the Hunt-Lee report “is a recommitment – a re-emergence, if you will – of North Carolina’s commitment to early childhood education.” Here’s a breakdown of the #earlyyears proposals. #nced

  • North Carolina’s top education and policy officials worked for eight months to find areas they could agree to prioritize. Strengthening early care and education was a major component. #nced

Leaders on both sides of the aisle and across sectors have worked over the past eight months to find common ground on how to improve education in North Carolina.

Finding agreement in a climate of division, their response to this question centered on the importance of early learning and development.

“It’s really a recommitment – a reemergence, if you will – of North Carolina’s commitment to early childhood education,” Amy Cubbage, president of the Smart Start Early Childhood Network, told about the report published last week by the Hunt-Lee. Commission.

Proposals to strengthen state support for children in their early years – from improving access to home visits and early learning, to elevating the profession of early childhood teacher childhood – have been incorporated throughout the report.

“This group did not set out to develop a comprehensive plan for education in North Carolina,” the report said. “Rather, its members have sought to examine our education system and identify areas of consensus from which we can build trust and move forward.”

These “areas of consensus” included ideas on how to address the fundamental challenges of early childhood care and education: how to pay early childhood teachers more, how to expand the supply and affordability of child care of children and pre-K, and how to support families during the transition to parenthood.

Below is a breakdown of how the commission suggests moving forward on behalf of the state’s youngest learners.

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The commission, convened by The Hunt Institute, included influential legislators, leaders from across the education continuum, philanthropic and nonprofit partners, and heads of interagency departments. Top Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper backed the commission.

The pandemic has underscored the importance of early care and education for children’s futures and workforce strength, said Sen. Mike Lee, R-New Hanover, who served on the commission. .

“North Carolina has a long history of leadership in early childhood, from Smart Start to More at Four and now NC Pre-K, so it’s never surprising to see him part of the political conversation, but I think that the pandemic has also brought these issues very close to home for many North Carolina residents,” Lee said in a statement. “Based on the data reviewed by the Commission, the importance of stable, high-quality early learning experiences and a high-quality workforce has never been more evident.”

So what are the early childhood priorities?

The recommendations are divided into three categories: “build on what we have”, “invite and test new ideas” and “implement proven solutions”.

When it comes to building on what the state has, the commission recommended increasing access to child care and pre-K through funding changes in the state grants and its NC Pre-K program.

Expand access to child care subsidies

The grant program helps pay for child care for families earning up to 200% of the federal poverty level, but it has long waiting lists statewide and does not provide enough per child to pay teachers a decent salary.

The state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is hiring an outside group to study its grant model this year. More funding would be needed to pay higher grants and reach more children and families. The program, funded mostly by federal dollars, served 56,708 children in February 2022, up from just over 70,000 in February 2019.

The report recommends exploring new ways to fund child care subsidies that would reach more children and families, such as increasing the number of subsidies available, increasing the maximum amount parents can receive and adjusting the amount based on family income.

NC Pre-K funding increases and pay equity

NC Pre-K, the state’s public preschool program, has seen a sharp drop in enrollment during the pandemic. This school year, it was back to about 80% of pre-pandemic levels, according to DHHS.

But even before the pandemic, the program only reached about half of eligible 4-year-olds. Lawmakers have tried to expand its reach, running into issues such as space, a stagnant reimbursement rate and staffing issues.

This report says the state should address these barriers by increasing the per-child rate that providers receive from the state, increasing the amount of funding allowed to be used for administrative purposes, and ensuring wage parity between teachers in private centers and public schools to help stop the turnover of high-quality teachers leaving private centers for more pay and benefits.

A Competitive Grants Program to Elevate the Early Childhood Teaching Profession

The report calls on the state to invite and test new ideas for some fundamental early childhood challenges: making early childhood education a viable career and increasing the supply of infant and toddler care. small.

Many programs struggle to find and retain teachers, with an inability to provide decent salaries. The report mentions some members of the commission who are reluctant to encourage students to pursue early education without the possibility of economic stability. The median hourly wage for a child care teacher in North Carolina in 2019 was $10.62.

The report suggests establishing a competitive grant program for localities to test pilots. These pilots, according to the report, should consider extending educational incentives and salary supplements like WAGE$ and AWARD$, using recruitment bonuses, salary increases, matching salaries to kindergarten educators in grade 12, career paths and opportunities to access the state benefit system.

“Based on the results of these pilot programs, the state can assess the cost/benefit of
different approaches and identify the most promising strategies for scaling up to other counties,” the report states.

Encourage more care for infants and toddlers

Access to affordable, high-quality care and learning is hard to come by. This is particularly the case in the first three years of life.

Childcare for infants and toddlers relies heavily on private tuition fees, which are often too high for parents, but not enough to cover the true cost of high-quality programs. Caring for younger children is more expensive than pre-K due to the number of professionals needed to maintain small ratios.

Report recommends “a series of pilot projects” to incentivize more infant and toddler slots, including grants for centers to open infant/toddler classrooms and increases in grant rates for younger children.

“In doing so, however, it is also essential that assessors consider the potential impact on slots for three- and four-year-olds,” the report said.

What has worked: Developing home visits

The report calls Family Connects Durham, which offers a free home visit from a nurse to all families during the first three weeks after birth, as an example of a program that is working and ready to scale. .

A study published in 2013 found that the program saved three dollars for every dollar spent by reducing the number of emergency room visits and hospital stays in the first six months.

Although home visitation programs vary in focus and approach, they often aim to provide holistic support to families as they bring a child into the world.

The report suggests expanding the reach of these programs, which in 2019 reached around 2% of families with children under 5. The report suggests using the Smart Start network to host these programs. Most of Smart Start’s 75 local partnerships already have a home visitation program.

Cubbage called it “a big step and an innovation”. She pointed to the state’s infant mortality rate and the racial disparity in those numbers as the most critical reason to invest more in supports like home visiting.

“I think now is the time,” she said. “We can no longer start any of the conversations beyond the first few days. We are losing children.

Will the recommendations have an impact on policy?

As we head into the short legislative session, Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford, called the report a “good stepping stone” to advancing early childhood policy conversations.

Next year’s long session is more likely to see conversations about increasing funding for child care as American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) stabilization grants begin to expire, said Clemmons in an interview.

“As we move into the long session, and see the ARPA cliff that is being talked about in childcare…I think that just reinforces those conversations.”

Lee said the same thing in an interview with EdNC – that the short session probably won’t provide enough time to push those ideas forward.

“The structural aspects of the short session are more difficult than the actual political perspective,” he said.

But the long session is another story, Lee said.

“Coming to the recommendations in a bipartisan way, I think based on these things that live inside the walls of the General Assembly, hopefully we can move forward with a lot of recommendations,” said Lee. .

Clemmons said the report is a step in the right direction.

“We can’t start talking about the success of our education system by pretending it starts at age 5 and kindergarten,” she said. “We know very clearly that our children’s success or failure begins long before kindergarten.”

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.

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