Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

Report: Children, teachers, parents benefit from early childcare and education system

N.C.’s youngest children would benefit from a high-quality early child-care and education system. So would everyone in our communities.

New research estimates that a “values-based” early child and education (ECE) system would benefit North Carolina’s children, teachers, and parents. A comprehensive publicly financed system that compensates educators fairly could serve between 368,000 and 485,000 children and would employ between 152,000 and 205,000 ECE teachers at fair wages once fully implemented. 

The report comes as the state must grapple with the growing evidence  reinforced in December by the court-ordered report from West Ed on the state’s failure to provide the constitutionally required sound, basic education — that North Carolina needs to consider all the ways in which children must be supported to thrive.  We must also consider the reality that as a state we are not supporting the education and brain development of our youngest children with a high-quality early child care and education system to help them thrive. 

The report, from Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE), explains that many proposals for ECE reform have focused primarily on improving access and affordability for families, but have ignored the elephant in the room: ECE is substantially “funded” through low teacher pay and inadequate supports for ECE teachers, who are primarily women  specifically, women of color.  It considers a bold proposition — leveraging public financing to reach more kids with quality care. 

The authors find that ECE teachers in North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree are paid 28.8% less than their colleagues in the K-8 system. And the poverty rate for early educators is 17.6%, much higher than North Carolina workers in general (10.6%) and more than 7.4 times as high as other teachers. 

Policymakers and other stakeholders in North Carolina have an opportunity to disrupt this problematic status quo and ensure that North Carolina’s system has the funding it needs to work effectively for children, families, and teachers.   

The federal government already provides North Carolina about $650 million annually, and parents pay $1.1 billion.  Moreover, with recent agreement reached in Congress to expand the Child Care and Development Block grant, North Carolina policymakers could have the opportunity once again to make transformational investments for our youngest children — and revisit the missed opportunity of the last economic expansion.   

The latest research released from the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute estimates that once this values-based system is fully implemented, there would be an annual cost for a high-quality and comprehensive ECE system in North Carolina ranging from $9.1 billion to $12.4 billion, or $25,000 to $27,000 per child.  These figures are not far from the investments per child we see in high quality K-12 systems   

 North Carolina would benefit tremendously by making a serious investment in early care and education. The reality that our state leaders can no longer ignore is that we need a stronger public commitment to the early childhood system in order to ensure every child is supported to their full potential.  We must invest early and now in a solid pathway to 3rd-grade reading and the full realization of our state’s constitutional obligation to a sound, basic education for every child. 

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