Pathways to Grade Level Reading Highlighted in First Meeting of NC Early Childhood Advisory Council

The reconstituted North Carolina Early Childhood Advisory Council met last week to kick off their work advising the Governor on strengthening North Carolina’s early learning and development system from birth through age eight. The work of the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading initiative was highlighted as the basis behind the Department of Health and Human Services’ emerging Early Childhood Action Plan.

The Council, named by Governor Roy Cooper in February 2018, is charged with:

  • Creating and guiding a bold early childhood action plan that aligns with other efforts to advance the state’s early childhood system.
  • Building awareness of the importance of high-quality early childhood experiences to future education and career success to ensure young children in North Carolina are learning and thriving.
  • Recommending and advocating for policies and funding that improve equitable access to high-quality early childhood services and better outcomes for young children and families.

The first meeting of the Council came the same day that the Governor’s budget priorities were released. The Governor’s budget proposes increased capacity of NC PreK, more child care subsidy slots, increased funding for Smart Start, and additional school personnel to address children’s social-emotional health in schools. Governor Cooper was on hand to open the Council, sharing a message about the importance of starting early and thinking about the whole child, including community conditions like homelessness and hunger that children and families deal with every day.

The Council is chaired by Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen, who invited the group to think big for the state of NC to be the leader in early childhood, and asked members to share their hopes for the Council. Council members spoke about the importance of building a comprehensive system and aligning around a vision for children. Maybe Stephanie Fanjul said it best when she said that we have seen enormous change in our state for children, and it’s been awhile since we have made a really big leap for young children. Though all the individual pieces of the system are important, let’s aim to do something big and outrageous, something bigger and deeper than any one of the Council members’ agendas.

Secretary Cohen shared the Department’s vision and priorities for early childhood. Deputy Secretary for Human Services Susan Perry-Manning shared more detail about the emerging NC Early Childhood Action Plan, including its basis in the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading work. She shared the Pathways Measures of Success Framework, including the top-line measures, the influencers and the developmental milestones that move children along the pathway to grade-level reading.

After a break, members further discussed the charge of the Council and what they hoped to see happen with the work. Council members are interested in:

  • Seeing statewide data on the relevant indicators.
  • Being kept up to date on the work of other early childhood-focused councils and committees.
  • Thinking about the state’s strengths and alignment, as well as where the state is “stuck” or misaligned.
  • Learning about the possible highest-yield interventions that have the greatest potential to move the needle.

The Council’s next meeting will be in August, with some work in between meetings.