Earlier this week the legislative budget was finally released. This budget process seems to have continued forever and now we are at the point of the process where Governor Roy Cooper will sign off on what has been presented. What does this mean for the early childhood education community? Nation- wide there has been a mandate by the early education community to increase funding for education especially during the pandemic. Child care is essential now more than ever, unfortunately childcare workforce haven’t been paid as if they’re needed. In North Carolina’s early education circuit organization have worked on advocacy efforts tirelessly to ensure the plight of the families we serve and educators we work with are considered within the budget. The WAGE$ program, created to support the early education workforce was not included in the final budget. This is unfortunate considering the educators in early childhood education are the backbone of the system. “With ample state and federal funding available, it is extremely disappointing that the budget does not include this investment in the essential early educators who are teaching and caring for our state’s youngest children.” says the North Carolina early Education Coalition.
Although WAGE$ being omitted from the final budget is disappointing, there are some early education wins within the budget. There was funding allocated to Smart Start, NC Pre-K, Federal child care funding and some ARPA funds that will be applied to child care. Smart Start will receive $10M in recurring funds for two years for a total of $20M. NC Pre-K will receive a 2% rate increase supported by $1.7 million for FY 21-22 and $3.4 million in FY 22-23 in recurring state funds with the intention of supporting salaries for NC Pre-K teachers in private child care programs. NC Pre-K will also get $20 million in non-recurring federal state-level ARPA funding to support start-up and capital grants for child care and NC Pre-K classrooms in communities with child care deserts or low-performing or high poverty school districts. However, there will be no additional funding for slot expansion. $500M of Federal American Rescue Plan funds will be used for Child Care Subsidy Assistance and Parent Co-pay.
It’s important to note this final budget was release following last week’s Leandro Hearing on Wednesday 11/10/2021. Superior Court Judge David Lee presiding over thecae expressed his support of every child in North Carolina being entitled to their constitutional right to a sound- basic education. Judge Lee ordered the state of North Carolina to use $1.7B to fund the Leandro Remedial Comprehensive plan. This is a huge development within the almost 30-year court case, however there was no mention of Leandro within the final state budget. Governor Cooper has been supportive of Leandro, the public will have to wait to see next steps on whether the Governor will sign the final budget as is, and if not, how the General Assembly will respond. The past week is a testament to the hard work and advocacy within the early education community while also putting a mandate on the importance of these advocacy efforts! If you are reading this post your voice does make a difference! If you are an advocate for early education, keep going. If you have children in this system or you are a part of the early education infrastructure in any way, consider writing your legislators and becoming involved in the process, the children of North Carolina need you!