Despite the consensus among members of both sides of the aisle — CEOs and working families, rural and urban leaders alike — that early childhood investments are critical to the well-being and economic development of the state, another budget proposal in North Carolina falls short of funding investments in our youngest children in the specific areas and at the levels needed.
The House budget makes only modest year-over-year increases in core early childhood investments in Smart Start, child care subsidies, and pre-K programs. Investments would increase by 1.7 percent for child care subsidies over last year, by 7.5 percent for Smart Start and by 6.5 percent in pre-K.
These increases fall short of reaching the infants, toddlers or pre-schoolers that are currently not served by quality early childhood programs.
These increases also don’t fully address the issue of an eroding infrastructure that is needed to support quality programming, the specific training and compensation needs to keep a competitive workforce of early childhood educators, and the building of classrooms across the state.
Moreover, these budget changes continue to increase reliance on federal block grants to support the funding of state priorities. House leaders approved swapping out state dollars in pre-K and child care subsidies for federal funds from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Child Care and Development block grant funds.
The result is that relative to FY2012-13 (the last year that state appropriations data was readily available), state funding for child care subsidy and NC Pre-K would be down more than 50 percent.
The result is also that the state is missing out on advancing major initiatives that would improve the quality and access to early childhood education. For example, the House budget proposes setting aside the minimum amount of dollars for quality measures as required by federal law.
The bottom-line of this budget story is once again that, despite consensus and a broadly shared understanding of what is needed to support the well-being our state, the cost of tax cuts each year is making it impossible to align our budget to those priorities.