Commentary, News

Report: NC’s investment in early childhood education woefully inadequate

Researchers and advocates at the League of Women Voters of the Lower Cape Fear are promoting a new report on the state of early childhood education in North Carolina. Their central and not surprising finding: the state is not getting the job done.

As the group noted in a recent release:

“Despite the proven benefits of NC Pre-K and broad support for the program, current state funding only allows 47% of eligible 4-year-olds to be served. Approximately 32,000 children lose out on this opportunity each year. In addition, because the state does not pay the full cost of NC Pre-K, 44 out of 100 counties in NC in the past 3 years have not applied for expansion dollars to increase access in their counties.”

The report concludes, among other things, that NC Pre-K is effective, its benefits continue through time, and has strong local support. It identifies the following five top needs in New Hanover County:

1. The New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) superintendent’s top priority is for the General Assembly to fund more slots. He wants every child who qualifies to have access to NC Pre-K. The school system currently has space to house several more Pre-K classes.

2. The New Hanover Early Childhood Education (ECE) director stated that “serving children is not good enough. We need comprehensive services to best prepare these children for kindergarten and beyond.”She sees a great need for more funding per slot to provide comprehensive services. Specifically, areas of need include:

  • Dental care
  • Mental health supports including screenings for all children in the program
  • Nutrition supports
  • Social emotional supports
  • Family counseling and services
  • Parent-family-community engagement
  • Additional professional development to equip teachers to build relationships with children with challenging behaviors

3. The ECE director believes that public sites in particular need additional state funds per slot. She would like to see public and private sites funded equally by the state.

4. Site administrators identified a need for more student support staff especially for children with challenging behaviors. At the public sites this includes more hours a week with a social worker, family or behavior specialist, and/or school psychologist. Private site administrators expressed the need for consistent and regular support for teachers dealing with behavior challenges, more timely help, and more support implementing behavioral interventions. Additional funding per slot is needed to address this gap in support services for children.

5. The ECE director is also advocating for an increase in the administrative funding allotment for NC Pre-K. The current 4% allotment for administration is very low for any program. Local administrative costs include outreach to families, evaluating and processing applications, site contract administration and oversight, and reporting to the state. These costs are currently subsidized by the NHCS budget.

The bottom line: it seems all but certain that the findings in New Hanover County could be replicated in all 100 North Carolina counties. As such, the report provides new confirmation that North Carolina is failing its young children. Click here to read the full report.

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