Proposed Bill Would Go Big for Early Childhood

A bill proposed in the NC General Assembly this session would provide a consistent, increased base of funding for North Carolina’s birth-through-eight early learning system. Senate Bill 726, entitled Go Big for Early Childhood, would substantially increase the state’s investment in early learning to improve access to high quality programs and continue to improve the quality of North Carolina’s early learning system.

The bill proposes to:

Increase funding for NC Pre-K by about $17 million per year for the next five years, growing the North Carolina’s investment from State General Funds in the high-quality program for at-risk four-year-olds from $88 million in 2018 to $155 million in 2022. (NC Pre-K is funded through a combination of State General Funds, Lottery Funds, and in recent years federal funds.) NC Pre-K is a national model and one of the highest quality programs in the country. NC ranks only middle of the pack, however, on access to preschool. More than 35,000 eligible 4-year-olds are not currently enrolled in the program because of lack of funding. These funds would significantly increase the number of at-risk four-year-olds who could benefit from high quality preschool.

Increase funding for the North Carolina Partnership for Children (Smart Start) by $20 million per year for the next five years, growing the state’s investment from $167 million in 2018 to $247 million in 2022. The North Carolina Partnership for Children works with local Smart Start partnerships across the state to improve young children’s outcomes, through raising quality of early care and education; supporting families to improve parenting and promote involvement; advancing child health by increasing access to healthcare, screenings, and healthy choices; and expanding literacy for children and their parents.

Increase the reimbursement rates paid to providers of NC Pre-K. Increasing the reimbursement rate per slot by three percent would help keep up with the cost of inflation and reduce the burden communities currently shoulder to fund Pre-K. The state pays 75 percent of the cost of a Pre-K slot, and local communities must fund the other 25 percent. Increasing reimbursement rates can also continue to drive improvements in the quality of the program, by, among other things, allowing Pre-K programs to recruit and retain the best and brightest early learning educators to teach the young children with the most obstacles.

Provide a tax credit to early care and education teachers and child care center directors, based on their years of service and their level of professional education achievement. A tax credit for early educators may drive interest in the field, create a pipeline of motivated teachers and directors, raise compensation for educators and administrators (who are currently paid much less than K-12 teachers and school leaders for doing similar jobs), and incentivize educators and administrators obtaining higher education degrees.