A couple times a month throughout 2022, our Marketing Communications Leader is connecting with parents of young children at our partner organizations to lift up the insights of these hard-working parents and the work of our amazing partners. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest story delivered right to your inbox and share the inspiring nuggets from these dedicated parents on social media when they resonate with you.
- Name: Matt Ellinwood
- Pronouns: he/him/his
- Location: Chapel Hill, NC
- When he became a parent: at age 37, in 2017
- How Matt is involved in early childhood community work: Director of Education & Law Project at the NC Justice Center, excited to join Wake County Smart Start Board, just finished serving on Governor’s DRIVE Task Force to support teacher diversity, EveryChildNC, NC Early Education Coalition, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights to support Leandro
- Who he parents: two boys, 1 and 5 years old
9 Questions with Matt, the Public Education Advocate:
- Lindsay: What early childhood issues are you passionate about?
Matt: I am most passionate about expanding access to early childhood education for working class families, multilingual learners, and students with disabilities who benefit most from these programs, but too often lack these opportunities. I am also particularly concerned about the early educator pipeline. These programs have been hit hard by the pandemic and it is difficult to find openings across the state. I personally struggled to find a placement for my one-year-old.
- Lindsay: What are your biggest challenges or worries as a parent of a child in early childhood?
Matt: The early childhood and K-12 school systems often have schedules that do not bear much resemblance to my and my wife’s work schedules, so it can be very difficult to coordinate everything. I also worry about finding full-time care for my youngest son since so many child care centers have either closed or are no longer accepting new children.
- Lindsay: With so many hard things to navigate, what legal and policy solutions do you think could uplift families, educators and early childhood providers?
Matt: We absolutely need to invest more as a state in our early childhood education system. Only about half of children who are eligible are currently being served by programs like NC Pre-K. Programs like Smart Start and Child Care subsidies are similarly hampered by lack of adequate funding. These are investments that support working families and provide incredible returns on investment in terms of educational outcomes, health outcomes, reduced costs on a variety of public assistance programs, and future earnings.
- Lindsay: You’re involved in the EveryChild NC Coalition. What can you tell us about the conversation around improving the work and services for families and little kids in that mission?
Matt: We believe the education system needs to meet children’s and families’ needs in a comprehensive way in terms of their experiences from birth through the Pre-K-12 system and the transition to college and career. What I have taken away most from the experiences of working with educators, advocates, and families who work directly with historically marginalized communities, whether it be in urban, suburban, or rural areas across the state, is that there are people in communities across the state who are doing amazing things to provide more opportunities for the children they work with in spite of the resource challenges they face. I believe if communities in North Carolina are given adequate resources we have the people in place who can make unbelievable things happen with those resources.
- Lindsay: What does Leandro mean for early childhood?
Matt: While there is broad agreement that early childhood education is beneficial to children, the Leandro case establishes that there is a constitutional right to the opportunity to receive a sound basic education that begins in early childhood.
For FY 2020-21, the state’s initial action plan proposed $35.6 million to combat the current early education inefficiencies, calling for the expansion of the NC Pre-K and Smart Start programs as well as increased funding for the early educator pipeline, Child Care WAGE$ Salary Supplement Program, and the NC Infant Toddler program that provides early intervention services. Take a look at the Leandro Impact Analysis: Early Education and the Leandro Budget Impact Analysis. Two other activities are also underway: to develop a new early learning program for infants and toddlers modeled on the NC Pre-K program, and to create quality transitions for young children from early childhood to K-3 classrooms.
- Lindsay: You’ve done a range of some interesting work – running after school programs in Philly, outreach work with migrant workers in rural Virginia, and for the past decade supporting and leading the education and law work at the NC Justice Center. What did you think about the experience of education for families as your education work evolved and what shifted in your perspective since becoming a parent?
Matt: I grew up believing that if I worked hard in school, volunteered in my community, and did the things I was told I needed to do that everything would work out. I was so impressed by the students I worked with in West Philadelphia and rural Virginia in terms of their aptitude, work ethic, and resourcefulness. But as someone who was close to them in age, it struck me as profoundly unfair that students who were doing things in what I saw as the right way who, through no fault of their own, were not being afforded anywhere near the same opportunities that I had. As a parent, I do understand how people can become hyper focused on their own children’s education without looking at the larger picture. But I believe my children need to be part of a healthy, well-funded, diverse system that meets the needs and provides opportunities for all children in order to have the best possible educational experience.
- Lindsay: What is something unique about your family?
Matt: My wife’s father is from the Azores (Portugal) and mom is from Cuba. My dad grew up on a farm in Upstate NY where they lived for generations and my mom’s family were more recent Irish immigrants. I feel like this variety makes my kids uniquely American!
- Lindsay: What brings the most joy to your family?
Matt: Definitely traveling. My boys seem very adventurous and like a change of scenery, and it takes some of the pressure off from coming up with activities at home all the time. Plus, I really enjoy it and that matters too!
- Lindsay: We’ve talked about lots of hard things. What gives you hope as a parent?
Matt: It has almost become a cliche that children are resilient, but boy they really are. I do not believe there are any lost causes when it comes to children if they are given the opportunity to learn, grow, and find what drives them and makes them happy. I have the good fortune to see so many engaged parents, amazingly dedicated educators, and students with tremendous potential across the state in my job. As hard as things get, I know we can figure this out and do what’s best for the next generation.
The North Carolina Justice Center is a North Carolina nonprofit fighting for prosperity and opportunity for all through seven projects: Consumer, Housing, and Energy; Education and Law; Fair Chance Criminal Justice; Health; Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Workers’ Rights; and N.C. Policy Watch. The Education & Law Project seeks to improve and reform public education from pre-K to 12th grade through policy research, community outreach, and litigation. You can follow the EdLaw project on Twitter and connect with Matt on LinkedIn.
Both EdLaw and NCECF are a part of the NC Early Education Coalition and support the funding and implementation of the Leandro case which has the potential to greatly expand access to early childhood education and improve the early childhood educator pipeline.