**By Rob Thompson, Executive Director of the Covenant with North Carolina’s Children
This post is part of a blog series on the crucial role of quality early childhood education and child care in caring for our youngest residents, creating thriving communities, and promoting a healthy economy. Read the introduction to this blog series and learn more about the programs we’ll be discussing here.
During the 2013 legislative session, North Carolina’s early childhood programs dodged a bullet. In both the House and the Senate, legislators considered damaging policy changes and funding shifts that would have undermined North Carolina’s early childhood infrastructure.
The state Senate, which took the first stab at the state budget, approved substantial funding transfers that would have dismantled the state’s early childhood infrastructure. The Senate budget required all child care subsidies to be administered by local Departments of Social Services (currently, child care subsidies are distributed to families by both local Smart Start agencies and Departments of Social Services.) This change would have stripped 40% of the overall Smart Start budget and would have likely resulted in the closure of several small-county Smart Starts.
Additionally, the Senate budget proposal would have transferred 5,000 NC Pre-K slots to the child care subsidy program, resulting in a net loss of 10,000 slots by 2015 (due to expiration of 5,000 one-time slots funded by Governor Perdue). By 2015, the total number of children enrolled in NC Pre-k would have dropped from 27,500 down to 17,500.
While the state House didn’t include these funding transfers in its budget proposal, it approved drastic limitations to the NC Pre-k program. The House budget restricted NC Pre-k eligibility to families under 130% of the federal poverty line and eliminated Limited English Proficiency and developmental delays and disabilities as eligibility criteria. If these changes had been passed into law, thousands of families who couldn’t afford pre-kindergarten on their own would have lost access to NC Pre-k.
When Senate and House budget negotiators met at the end of session, all of the aforementioned policy changes and cuts were on the table. While the final budget allowed funding for 2,500 NC Pre-k slots to expire, it could have been a lot worse. There were no additional restrictions on NC Pre-k eligibility and no funding cuts for Smart Start. Remarkably, despite all the bluster and dramatic proposals, North Carolina’s early childhood system remains intact, though greater investment is needed if North Carolina is to meet the needs of families and young children.