The lead editorial in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal tells it like it is in an editorial blasting the state-sponsored child abuse that is North Carolina’s ridiculously underfunded and overwhelmed childcare system. As the editorial explains, two decades after the progress issued in by former Gov. Jim Hunt and his signature program, Smart Start, neglect and conservative, trickledown economics have left the state with some dreadful stats:

“We miss Jim Hunt’s days as governor.

Hunt, who’s still speaking out for education, did a lot to help underprivileged children by establishing Smart Start, a public-private program that incorporated socialization, health care and some preschool academic preparation. Gov. Mike Easley, for all his faults in other areas, followed up by establishing More at Four, saying the state’s at-risk children needed early academic work.

Today, fewer than half of North Carolina’s children age 4 and younger are enrolled in a regulated child-care facility — either at a formal child-care center or in a regulated family child-care home — the Journal’s Arika Herrron reported recently, citing records from the N.C. Division of Child Development and Early Education.”

After citing some even more dreadful numbers from Forsyth County, including massive and growing waiting lists, the Journal puts it this way:

“Here are children who want to learn, and parents who want their children to learn. Here’s a state that is traditionally dedicated to quality education for all.

And here’s a state legislature that’s more interested in giving raises to UNC chancellors than providing preschool for 4-year-olds in working families. These priorities are skewed.”

The editorial takes a stab at a positive closing note by pointing out a new and ongoing study of the issue and expressing hope that it will help state legislators finally see the light. The problem, however, is that the people running North Carolina these days don’t really believe in publicly supported childcare, which they regard as socialist indoctrination.

In other words, caring and thinking people are not going to win this critical battle merely by reciting statistics about unnecessary human suffering. It’s going to continue to take  a sustained effort to win the ideological battle as well; North Carolinians must come to see that public structures and systems like  public education and public childcare are the foundations of a middle class society, not just charitable services that get tossed to a handful of poor folks.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

2015 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center, Women and the Economy

One of the most pressing concerns for any working family with children in North Carolina is to figure out a child care arrangement for children that allows parents to work and provide for their family, and allows children to learn and grow in a safe and stimulating setting when not in parental care. This is especially challenging because of the high cost of child care, as noted in these recently released state fact sheets by Child Care Aware of America. There are a few options available for families who earn low to moderate wages including the child care subsidy program which provides financial assistance to working families who need help paying for child care. Unfortunately this critical building block that makes life work for working families has been crumbling due to recent policy decisions by North Carolina lawmakers.

In our newest edition of Prosperity Watch, we feature a report released this month by NC Child detailing the impact made by child care subsidy policy changes passed by North Carolina lawmakers last year. These changes amounted to the loss of financial assistance for thousands of North Carolina families, including reducing income eligibility levels to qualify for the program, elimination of prorated fees for part-time child care (meaning many families will no longer be able to afford care), as well as counting income of a non-parent relative caregiver like a grandparent against the child’s eligibility for subsidies.

The map below provides a county by county breakdown of the more than 6,000 children who have lost or will lose access to child care subsidies from the change to the income eligibility provision alone.

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Raising the Bar 2015

Raising the Bar in North CarolinaEditor’s note: The following post by Tracy Zimmerman at the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundations, is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar,” a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved. This piece is reprinted with permission from the NC Early Childhood Foundation. The full list of footnotes for this piece can be found on their website.

It’s budget time for the state – a good opportunity to review North Carolina’s history of early childhood investments.

Investing in strategies that focus on children from birth to age eight is the most effective and cost-efficient means to improve third grade outcomes and long-term success for children and the state. For optimal development and a strong foundation, children need good health, strong families and high quality early learning and school experiences. With quality early child development experiences, children are school ready, graduate from high school and grow into productive citizens and valuable employees.

In North Carolina, the Child Care Subsidy Program, Smart Start and NC Pre-K (formerly More at Four) comprise the majority of North Carolina’s state investments in early care and learning prior to kindergarten. Together, they form the infrastructure to deliver evidence-based programs in all 100 North Carolina counties, ensure that children living in low-income working families have access to high quality child care programs and provide at-risk four-year-olds with the opportunity to start school on an even playing field with their higher income peers.

These initiatives are funded through a combination of state general funds, state lottery funds and federal funds. Over the past several years – under both Democrats and Republicans – the state’s approach to funding these initiatives has undergone significant change. Three trends have emerged: Read More

2015 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Despite the fact that almost three-quarters of North Carolina voters support expanding NC Pre-K and Smart Start, state lawmakers continued a pattern of underinvestment in key early childhood education services in the state budget they passed this year. NC Pre-K is a proven program which helps prepare children for later success in life, yet lawmakers failed to keep up with the needs of young children in the budget. They provided a one-time $5 million increase for NC Pre-K, but these are not recurring dollars and most of the money goes to increase teacher salaries. While improving teacher pay is critical, there is little left over to provide additional Pre-K slots. This education program currently is not able to serve thousands of children on a waiting list and thousands more who would otherwise be eligible. This is just one example of the many trade-offs state legislators made due to their choice to prioritize tax cuts primarily for those at the top over needed investments in our children, families and workforce.

Child care subsidies, another effective program which helps lower income families afford quality child care and serves as a work support, also took a hit in this year’s budget. Like NC Pre-K, the child care subsidy program helps make sure young children have access to quality early education, and it also has a waiting list of thousands. Lawmakers did little to address the shortage of services and actually made it harder for some low-income families to access this support. They lowered the income eligibility requirements for children under five years old to 200 percent of the federal poverty level (about $39,000 for a family of three). The program used to be available to young children in families earning up to 75 percent of the state median income (about $42,000 for a family of three). The changes were even worse for school-age children using subsidies for after school care. One positive change lawmakers made in this year’s budget was to how much child care providers are reimbursed for serving children who get subsidies, bringing the cost per child closer to the market rate and helping providers recoup more of their expenses. However, providers still are not paid the full market rate, making it hard for many child care settings to accept children who receive subsidies.

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NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Income Data 2013, Poverty and Policy Matters

Children face the highest poverty rate in North Carolina compared to other age groups according to data released last week by the US Census Bureau. After more than five years into an economic recovery, one in four children (25.2%) in North Carolina remained in poverty in 2013 –unchanged from 2012 and higher than the national child poverty rate (22%). At a time when we are experiencing an economic recovery, it is troubling that our state’s child poverty rate is not declining and remains significantly higher than the national average.

The numbers become even more meaningful when considering the disadvantages children in poverty face: less access to early education programs and high quality schools, food insecurity, higher stress levels and higher dropout rates, among other risk factors. Recent findings in brain development research also warn of the impact of toxic stress associated with poverty on a young child’s developing brain. Toxic stress can weaken the architecture of a child’s brain, creating long-term challenges that make it hard for one to be economically secure as an adult. Other numbers are rising for children across the nation and in North Carolina that we certainly don’t want to see on the rise. Infant mortality and child mortality has increased in North Carolina. There has also been a rise in the number of homeless school children, according to recently released national data. Both are indicators of poverty’s tight grasp on America’s and North Carolina’s children.

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