The importance of early childhood education has never been clearer than during the COVID-19 pandemic. High-quality child care and early childhood education are critical for children’s development, for supporting working parents, and for thriving communities. The lasting, transformative benefits of early childhood investments require sustained commitment from North Carolina leaders, and voters want to see more public investment that makes early childhood education accessible and affordable for more families.
According to a survey conducted by Data for Progress in January, 73% of voters support more public funding to expand access to child-care assistance and early childhood education in the state, including 68% of rural voters and an overwhelming 82% of urban voters. A bigger, bolder public commitment can break through the constraints of the current private pay model for child care, which burdens families with high costs and hampers progress toward quality care for all. Our collective dollars can fortify a system that prepares the youngest children for future learning regardless of their family’s income or which community a child happens to live in.
The low compensation of early childhood educators makes clear the limitations of our current private model for early childhood education. These educators are “the workforce behind the workforce,” and have literally risked their lives during the pandemic to make it possible for other essential worker parents to keep North Carolina running. Yet their pay remains far below what it takes it to make ends meet. Educators on average earn $12 per hour, and fewer than half of child-care centers provide their staff with health insurance. These realities make it a huge challenge to retain high-quality educators.
Before COVID-19 hit, too many families couldn’t afford high-quality early childhood education. Today, thousands of eligible families are on the waitlist for child-care subsidies, and many more don’t even bother to get on the wait list. The need has only increased during the economic downturn.
While the early childhood system has received some crucial relief funds during the pandemic, North Carolina needs a permanent commitment of public funds to build a system that will help all our communities thrive — and voters agree. That means not just deploying federal dollars available now but committing state dollars to this investment in our state’s future.
Not only can North Carolina currently afford to direct state dollars to early childhood education, but a clear majority of North Carolina voters also support progressive tax policies that can help raise additional revenue to make these investments. In particular, voters support increasing taxes on high-income households. Seventy percent of voters support raising income taxes on households making over $400,000 a year in the state, while 60% support higher tax rates on corporations. This includes support from over half of rural, suburban, and urban voters for both policies.
State policies that prioritize equity are also popular: 61 percent — including a majority of voters in rural and suburban locations — agree that investments should prioritize low-income communities and communities of color.
It is critical to focus on equity when it comes to rebuilding an early childhood education system that works for every community in our state. The majority of early childhood educators in North Carolina are women of color, and across the country Black and Latinx educators are paid less than their white peers, even at the same levels of education. Black and Latinx working parents also pay a higher percentage of their income on child care, and occupational segregation means they are less likely to work in jobs that allow them to work from home, elevating the importance of affordable child care. Decades of research shows that high-quality early education benefits all children, but especially low-income children. Substantial public commitment to this system can bolster low-income communities across the state and support the well-being of all families and educators — Black, brown, and white.
We know the benefits of investments in early childhood education, and these findings show that these policies are popular with voters as well. Ensuring that higher-income earners and corporations pay their fair share of taxes can provide a valuable revenue source to fund popular public investments that prioritize low-income communities and communities of color. It’s time for North Carolina leaders to make the equitable investments in our state’s future that voters overwhelmingly support.
More about this voter modeling
The NC Budget & Tax Center partnered with Data for Progress to conduct this survey. Data for Progress uses state-of-the-art data science to understand voters’ policy priorities. From January 5 to January 15, 2021, Data for Progress surveyed 1,968 likely voters in North Carolina using SMS and web panel respondents. The sample was weighted to be representative of likely voters by age, gender, education, race, and voting history. The survey was conducted in English. The margin of error is ±2.2 percentage points.
Logan Rockefeller Harris is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.