We recently wrote about the increase in federal child care subsidy dollars passed by Congress in February (final spending levels will be set later this month). If federal child care funds coming to North Carolina are indeed doubled, our state will need to decide which priorities to invest the new funds in.
The NC Division of Child Development and Early Education, which administers this federal funding, is hosting listening sessions this month to learn about your priorities for child care and early education. They will use the input to plan for how the funding will be spent over the next three years. If you would like to give input but can’t attend a session, you can send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 2.
Other states are starting the conversation too. Washington State, for example, proposes to use their increased funding to increase child care reimbursement rates, increase access to infant and toddler care, increase access to child care for families living in geographic areas with low supply, and provide nurse consultation services to licensed childcare providers.
This federal funding (the Child Care and Development Block Grant) in North Carolina is currently used to support child care subsidies, state and local administrative costs, and quality activities, including regulatory staff. What should North Carolina’s priorities be if we have increased funds?
- Provide child care subsidies for more children?
- Reimburse providers at higher rates to support quality improvement?
We could do both with a focus on infants and toddlers? Prioritizing improving quality and expanding access for the youngest ones makes a lot of sense from a brain development perspective—those first few years are a critical developmental period. The data also show that because of the cost of providing high quality care for infants and toddlers, they currently tend to be in lower quality care during this critical period than their 4- and 5-year-olds peers.
A recent report from CLASP outlines the disconnect between market rates for infant and toddler care and what is actually paid to child care home and child care center providers. Like many states, North Carolina (Mecklenburg County is used as the sample here) currently reimburses providers 20 to 30 percent less than the federally-recommended level for infant and toddler care. The federally-recommended level is 75 percent of the market rate in the region. Our providers are not being paid enough to provide high quality care to our babies and toddlers.
We shared recently that the NC Early Education Coalition in partnership with Child Care Services Association will lead ZERO TO THREE’s new Think Babies investment in North Carolina. ZERO TO THREE will provide funding, technical assistance, and peer learning opportunities to support these organizations as they develop and implement campaigns to advance policies that benefit infants and toddlers. One of the focus areas for that work is on increasing access to affordable, quality child care for infants and toddlers.
The expected boost in federal funding, along with ZERO TO THREE’s investment in North Carolina’s expertise around infants and toddlers might be just the dovetail we need to really boost outcomes for our youngest citizens.