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Spotlight on Early Childhood: A focus on the programs that support our youngest North Carolinians and their families

Early Childhood Picture

**This post was authored by Elizabeth Queen, an intern with the Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project

Today’s “walk in” highlights the recent hits to North Carolina’s public education system, from funneling desperately needed public school funding into private school vouchers to failing to adequately compensate teachers for their hard work to educate our children. We support our public school teachers today, and are also spending this entire week spotlighting the programs that serve our youngest state residents and their families.

North Carolina has had one of the best pre-k programs in the country for years. However, despite national praise for this high-quality, cost-effective program (which, by the way, North Carolina is required by court order to provide to all at-risk 4-year-olds as part of these at-risk children’s constitutional right to a sound basic education ), the General Assembly has tried to limit access to this vital foundation for lifelong learning through cuts in the number of pre-k slots available and a proposed shift in the definition of “at-risk” that would allow the State to exclude some of NC’s most vulnerable kids from services. Without the essential building block of pre-k, children are far more likely to experience obstacles throughout the rest of their education and even into adulthood. And taxpayers are far more likely to pay the price for special education, involvement with the criminal justice system, and assistance from welfare programs for children who do not receive early childhood education.

But North Carolina’s early education programs are not the only family-supporting programs that are underfunded. The child care subsidies that allow many middle and low income children to receive safe, reliable child care while their parents work or attend school are also threatened by inadequate funding. And without affordable, quality child care, working parents’ ability to go to work or finish a degree is jeopardized.

Throughout the week, we’ll be exploring topics related to early education and quality, affordable child care. We’ll provide updates about changes to legislation impacting early childhood education and look at the trend of a declining number of Pre-K seats available since the beginning of the Great Recession. In addition, the blog will feature a comparison of North Carolina’s programs with the federal Head Start program (which just celebrated National Head Start Awareness Month in October), a look at Smart Start in our state, and two profiles of parents discussing the importance of consistent, adequate investment in child care subsidies. Early Childhood Week will provide a variety of perspectives on how investment in early childhood programs benefits everyone, not just young children and their families.

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