Watauga County Raises the Bar on Quality Early Learning for Young Children

The Children’s Council of Watauga County has found an innovative way to raise the quality of local early learning environments. The local accreditation program uses a blend of public and private funds to financially reward centers and family child care homes that meet certain standards. This model allows providers to raise the bar for children and teachers, without passing those costs on to families.
The Council’s accreditation program is modeled after the rigorous National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Accreditation Program, but the costs to providers of accreditation are subsidized. As part of the program, teachers and directors receive training, mentoring, coaching, textbooks and other supplies and materials, and reimbursement for hiring substitutes. They join professional learning communities and become eligible for classroom grants. Centers and family child care homes that are enrolled in the accreditation program and meet education and compensation requirements of lead teachers are eligible for enhancement bonuses each month. 
High quality early learning environments are critical to children’s short- and long-term health, school and life success. Through the North Carolina Pathways to Grade Level Reading initiative, hundreds of stakeholders have identified high quality early learning environments as a priority for the state. There is currently a specific focus in North Carolina on high quality environments for birth through three year olds, both through the Pathways initiative and a new Think Babies initiative funded by Zero to Three and Pritzker Children’s Initiative. High quality care for infants and toddlers is costly to provide, resulting in too few placements, particularly in rural areas, and fees that are out of reach for many families. Innovative solutions like this one in Watauga County could help fill a critical gap.
Click here to watch a six-minute video about the new accreditation program.