Raleigh, N.C. — Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos announced Tuesday that Dianna Lightfoot has been appointed the state's new director of Child Development and Early Education.
The Division of Child Development and Early Education, or DCDEE, oversees the state's child-care program as well as NC Pre-K, which was moved into Health and Human Services from the Department of Public Instruction last session.
From the DHHS news release:
"Ms. Lightfoot is a strategic and tactical top tier policy executive with extensive healthcare, child welfare and education expertise,” said Secretary Wos. "Her leadership will ensure we meet the State’s longstanding commitment to protect and serve our young children.”
Lightfoot has served as president of the National Physicians Center, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that supports and promotes healthcare public policies and education, a post she has held since 2001. ... She holds a master’s degree in psychology and community relations, a counseling license and a secondary teaching credential.
The National Physicians Center for Family Resources, which Lightfoot founded in 2001, advocates against "institutional" preschool programs.
"In the case of early childhood education programs, available research suggests they may actually be inferior to early learning opportunities at home. In addition, it appears the demand for out of home childcare is not as prevalent as many advocates claim," says an open letter signed by Lightfoot on the group's website.
The letter also warns that "There is great potential for early learning institutions to foster more dependency on the government (i.e. taxpayer) and more of an entitlement mentality."
"Will institutions focus on character building and teaching strong values? If so, whose values will children be taught?" it asks.
The North Carolina Democratic Party immediately criticized the move, noting the state was a national pioneer in early childhood education.
"For Gov. McCrory, who stated his support for Pre-K during the campaign, and Secretary Wos to appoint someone who actively advocates against Pre-K, who believes that educating our children will result in 'an entitlement mentality,' demonstrates a total lack of respect for the educational process and a willingness to sacrifice North Carolina’s future a political goal,” Democratic spokesman Clay Pittman said in a statement.
Before 2001, Lightfoot served in executive positions at conservative think tanks in South Carolina and Alabama.
She starts work at DHHS next Monday at an annual salary of $110,000.
"When she comes to work here Feb. 11, she'll be working for the secretary, and they both work for the governor," DHHS spokeswoman Julie Henry said when asked about Lightfoot's potential conflict of interest.
Henry said Lightfoot has resigned from the National Physicians Center and suggested that she may have changed her views, but she couldn't say whether the new director now supports public preschool.
Lightfoot has not yet responded to interview requests.