Education Matters: Setting the stage for early childhood development
Michelle Hughes, Muffy Grant and Sen. Jay Chaudhuri get together to talk about early childhood education and providing children with the foundation to do well in school and life.
mhm. Mm. Welcome to education matters Presented by the Public School Forum of North Carolina. I'm your host, Maryanne Wolf. Early childhood education, care and supports provide our Children with the foundation to do well in school and in life and are critical for our families and our state. Our guest today are here to talk about the importance of early childhood learning and supports and what needs to happen across North Carolina to give our Children the best chance for success. I'd like to welcome to the show. Michelle Hughes, the executive director of N. C. Child and Muffy Grant, the executive director of the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation. Thank you both So much for being here today. Thank you for having us happy to be here, Marianne, with both of you. Well, we are so fortunate to be here with two such important leaders in early childhood and the whole child. And I'd love to start today just by giving each of you a chance to share. What you see is the most pressing issues right now in North Carolina. I would say that you know, North Carolina has so many wonderful has led the charge in the country really around investments in early childhood, and we need to, um, use that great foundation. Things like Smart start the first state to offer full day kindergarten, um, and and use that to increase public will around viewing the entire birth through age five through K 12 education. Um, as as one continuum and early care and education really does need to be funded as a public good. And how are we going to come together to do that And, um, to provide an environment that is competent in racial justice And, um, that pays its workforce equitably with parody did the K through 12 system, um, and is really reflecting the needs and the desires of the community that it serves. So this pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to really rethink what equity might look like an early care and education. And I certainly am hopeful that this tide, um, is going to move us towards that that North Star, a universally accessible, equitable, affordable early care and education system for all North Carolina families to take what Muffy said and then maybe even expanded a little bit more building on the importance of early care and learning for for young Children and brain development. We really want to be taking a whole child, comprehensive approach to Children's health and their growth and their development. We really need to look at what's happening to North Carolina families and North Carolina communities. Um, and we really can't help Children unless we're helping their families and their communities. So as we look at the pandemic and sort of what has happened in North Carolina, everything Muffy just said in terms of early education and we know that families in terms of loss of employment, um, food security, housing, stability, um, mental health issues for young people, including young Children, are skyrocketing. So these are all things we need to be paying attention to if we want young Children and all Children, um, to be thriving in North Carolina. And I'm curious to hear more your thoughts about the Leandro case, which has been a long time case here in North Carolina, and the fact that it addresses early childhood is actually quite significant, and I wonder if you'd be willing to share kind of why you see that as important. And perhaps also promising. Leandro is, um really consequential. And it's an opportunity for us to think about how you cannot decouple care from education, that those two things need one another in order to be a nurturing, nourishing environment that leads to academic success. Um, in long term success in length, Leandro is is really looking at what we have in place in North Carolina, things like the Smart Start Network, which is great because that's focusing on zero through five, um, and the N C pre K program and ways to expand that. And to try to, um, supplement the funding issues where there are funding issues in communities, um, counties, where it's really hard to reach that that match requirement, the funding match requirement, Um, and also the issues of space. You know, where are we going to put these Children? If we if we are going to be offering Universal, um, and see pre K, and it's it's actually not a universal program, it's it's, you know, this is a really outdated term, but it's something that I think we need to discuss. Um, term at risk is really antiquated. And in 1994 when Leandro was brought to the courts here in North Carolina. Um, that was the phrase at the time, but now we know that means communities that are overburdened and under resourced and from low wealth areas. Um and so it's important that we recognize that that that is what Leandro is is really squarely focusing on those, um, that that have historically not had the most support. Um, and I think that that's a great opportunity. You know, that's the tide that lifts all boats. And we can start really making the determination as a state of okay if we're framing early care. And education is a public good knowing what we know about brain science and that a child is entering the kindergarten classroom with 85% of their brain development, then it is really crucial that we're not just starting at pre K, but that we are looking at ways in which we can invest public funds into the 0 to 3 infants and toddlers in particular system. You know, one thing we need to remember is that when Children, those young Children are in a lot of different settings when, um, they are 0 to 5, so some are home with their parents Some are with their grandparents. Some are with neighbors or informal care, and then some are in a licensed childcare system that North Carolina is known nationally for having such a strong system. Um, that licensed childcare system, though, is a fragile system, and that's primarily because of how it's financed. Um, when you look at program costs for early care and education, about 60% of the revenue comes from parent fees. Um, and so that is, you know what parents are paying toward, uh, weekly or monthly toward their program? For many parents in North Carolina, there, simply financially out of reach, childcare is not affordable. And even for middle class and upper class upper income families, it's still a stretch. Childcare is really expensive, and so families often don't have choices, um, in their community, about affordable child care and for and for the folks that are in childcare programs, teachers themselves and the owners of childcare programs, it is a hard place to be. Um, we know that the cost of quality far outstrips what parents can pay, and so teachers are paid a very low wage, typically around 11 $12 an hour, Um, and operators of childcare programs are operating on a very razor thin margin. Um, there is no bandwidth there, um, in terms of profit, um, and so those things all contribute to a very fragile system, which has only been kind of exacerbated in the pandemic. Right now, North Carolina childcare programs licensed childcare programs are serving about half the Children that they were serving before covid, which means that loss of parental income is hitting childcare programs really hard. And so even though really, the majority more than 90% of programs are open, they are operating at about half capacity, which means that tuition is not there for them, and they are struggling to stay open right now. I wonder if you want to talk a little bit more about programs that are working, but also aspects that maybe we should be growing at this time, especially given our recovery as we start to come out of covid. So there's two programs. There's one called wages. That's actually, um, it's there's National. We have a national th this, uh, center here in North Carolina. It was It was developed here in North Carolina, Um, and it's in close to 60 counties in our state where the local smart start, um partnership, um, subsidizes with help from D C D E, which is the division of child development and early education that lives within DHS. That's responsible for oversight of zero through NZ pre k um, that they fund this salary supplementation because, you know, childcare workers who are doing this critical work of brain development and providing this, um, stimulating environment and the serve in return for young Children and all their connecting synapses in the brain, on average, are paid about $11 an hour. Um, and so when you're asking them to, there's another program called Awards, which is strictly through D C D E, which is another salary supplementation program. But they're limited as to how many people they can offer these salary supplements, too. Um, and it's challenging when you're asking teachers to to grow in their professional development in their education, knowing that they are oftentimes having to take loans out to go to community colleges or to get, you know, bachelor's degrees in these fields for which they're never going to be paid. The money to pay back those loans becomes a little bit of an ethical question. Um, there is a program that is designed to help, um provides scholarships for for folks who want to become early educators. It's called Teach. Um and that's That's an important vehicle, I think, for expansion to get more people interested in the field. But we've really got to do a better job of valuing the work, Um, that these mostly mostly women and mostly women of color are doing to create the foundation for lifelong learning and success. Yeah, if I can jump in on that Marianne just to echo because it's so important, like we could be, we could be talking about this all day. Honestly, we could. There's just simply no way to get to quality early care and education without fairly compensated teachers. Um, it's just not possible. And so if we really want an equitable and quality child care system, early care and learning system, we have to be focused on making sure the teachers are fairly compensated and what Muffy satisfied on 40% of our teachers are on public assistance. One in five does not have health insurance. I know a childcare owner who has had to staff um, pass away because they were unable to get the health care that they needed because they were uninsured. Um, And so this is a huge crisis, honestly, for our teachers. And it's playing out in the pipeline of early education teachers. We're seeing less folks entering that pipeline to become early care teachers early learning teachers again. That's going to impact us later on as we're trying to expand access to childcare and early care and learning. And we simply don't have the teacher supply, um, to support those programs. Um, so I think the early care is really, uh, teacher compensation is just such an enormous issue for North Carolina. And I do want to highlight the work of our colleagues at the early Education Coalition who have recently launched a worthy wage campaign, specifically focused on wages and increasing wages for teachers, and have had an enormous response across the state because it is such an important issue for teachers. You all have both raise so many important points and reminded us how complex it is the early care and education of our students, but how important it is as well. And after the break, we will be joined by Senator Jay Chowdhury, whose co chair of the General Assembly's early childhood caucus, and to continue this important conversation, Thank you both. So much education matters is brought to you each week in part by town bank serving, others enriching lives. I'd like to welcome Senator Jay Chowdhury, representing Wake County and co chair of the General Assembly Early Childhood Caucus. Thank you so much for joining us today. Great to be with you. Marianne. We know that this early childhood caucus is something that's been very important to you, and I would love to hear more about what your thoughts are about early childhood and why you have chosen to be engaged as co chair number one. I'm flattered to service co chair on the Senate side with Senator Jim Bergen and representative Ashley Clemens and represented David Willis co chair the House side. But the reason that I agreed to co chair this caucuses because I truly, uh, deeply believe that early childhood education is the single best investment that we can make as taxpayers and the return on investment. Um, it's not debatable. We know that from many studies, and I also firmly believe that this is not a Democrat issue. It's not a Republican issue. It's not an independent issue. It's an issue about investing in the future of our Children. And while we may have a lot of partisanship in the building, I really think this is an issue that we can all agree upon. Well, I so appreciate that. And we are very fortunate that there is such strong research behind these efforts, and we know that it really makes such a difference not just for that beginning of schooling, right, but continued through future success. And so really appreciate that. What do you see as the biggest needs and challenges facing North Carolina right now in terms of meeting the needs of all of our young people? So I think that the I think there are few issues, and these are issues that have been discussed before. I mean, I think number one is we have a real challenge with our early childhood workforce. We know that we've got early childhood teachers that sometimes earned $10 an hour, maybe as high as $15 an hour work. Um, part of that also goes to the qualifications of our early hood child, early childhood teachers as well. Many of them don't have an associates degree. So we really need to look at how we can build an incentive to attract additional, uh, high quality early childhood teachers. And then the second, of course, is access. I mean, we have we have, I believe, 33,000 eligible Children that are on the art that are eligible for early childhood, um, programs that don't receive it. And that's always been a weak spot in North Carolina. So if we can do more to make sure that these great programs that we have in North Carolina, such as the pre K uh, the, uh, the smart start programs are available, uh, that I think that would go a long way. And obviously those are recommendations that have come out from the Leandra court decision is court consent order as well. You raise such great points because once again, we know what we need, which is more opportunity for more of our Children and then also to have those teachers that are highly qualified but also fairly compensated. And I wonder what you're hoping that the General Assembly will do in this session. but also in future years to really address those challenges. So my my hope is my hope is Number one is that will take some real lessons away from the pandemic. I mean, we know our early childhood care centers have been really hot hit hard. We know that it's been hard to recruit and retain early childhood centers. Teachers, um in North Carolina in Wake County, for example, which I represent. We have seen a reduction in the number of Children that are eligible for early childhood services. So that's just that's a problem in a county like Wake County. Um, and so, you know, based on the pandemic, I I hope that we're going to double down our efforts in focusing on early childhood education. And so that means that we need to focus on way. That's the way that we can supplement to the salaries for early childhood teachers, as well as making sure that we put more dollars towards the N. C. Pre K program in the Smart Start program programs that we know that work, um, to to expand it, uh, as well, so that that's my hope. And when we get out of this session and future sessions. Well, I so appreciate to this notion of things that we do to help us in the covid recovery phase are also really important things that can help us long term. And they get to do both and also help to address equity issues as well. I know that Leandro does lay out several key goals for early childhood education. And I wonder how you anticipate that the leandra work playing into the work of the caucus, but also the General Assembly and with some of the specific recommendations you've already shared, we haven't discussed it. Um, as as a caucus and the caucuses were kind of engaged in the fact finding phase right now. But you know the governor, Governor Cooper is expected to release his budget this week. I think we'll get some indications of what he is staking out as far as his response, the Leandro decision and the importance, I think, to put dollars towards, uh, number one again, making sure that we fund the N. C. Pre K program, um, in the smart start program to reach 75% of the eligible Children, which is part of what the Leandro decision and the consultant consent order talks about, but secondly, also addressing the earlier issue that we talked about. And that's to make sure that we recruit and retain a high, highly qualified early childhood workforce. And I mean, I hope that, um, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, whether it's the governor's office or the General Assembly, that we can come together on these issues because those are great long term investments for our state. Do you think there's potential for some incentives in that regard? Because I know you mentioned already the very important element of pay that people can have a good make a good living. But I also wonder if you could foresee any efforts to incentivize students, even grow your own types of programs that might lead to more people entering that pipeline. I would love to see that, And I know there has been some discussions, uh, with the Leandro recommendations to look at growing your own, particularly, um, I think beyond beyond the kind of the pre K space. But I think that's a great idea. And we also know that one of the needs with Smart start program, for example, is better flexible funding, but that I think highlights. The principle that you've raised in this question is that we know that local communities know best on how to design these programs, and the state should be in a position to support them as much as possible. I mean, we also know that the funding ratio that we provide for these early childhood programs simply not enough, particularly in underserved counties. And I hope that that may be one way to build additional incentives for local communities to partner with the state on building these programs out. And is there anything else that you would like to talk about in terms of really childhood? I know we've covered a lot of key issues, but I just want to make sure I give you a chance if there's any other peace you'd like to add. What I would say is I'm really excited about the early childhood caucus and what it means for the state. I, um I am optimistic that this will be a national model and I think we're seeing business. Leaders were seeing leaders from the nonprofit space um, and government officials and elected officials all coming together to focus on this issue, and I'm hoping that this will be the beginning of something new with the early childhood, uh, caucus. And really, the leadership, especially representative Ashton Clemens, says, There's a lot of credit for bringing us together on this, And, uh, and I hope that this will lay the foundation for us to do work together going forward many years from now. Well, thank you so much, and we also find it very promising to have so many of you, especially with you as a co chair of that effort. So thank you so much for that, but also for being here with us today. Thanks so much. Mary Ann after the break. This week's final word. Yeah, we often hear teachers and administrators talk about how their students come to their schools with such diverse backgrounds, competencies and experiences. This is true at all grade levels, but often particularly so in kindergarten, as we recognize that some students have had extensive experiences in social settings or are already reading, while others may have only had limited formal education or access to text. Other students have adverse childhood experiences or may not have yet been exposed to English this all affects where they are as individuals and students when they enter our schools, as we talked previously in our discussion about early literacy, progress in understanding how a student's brain works provides us with the opportunity to address the many factors that can support a child to reach their full potential and to understand how to best meet their needs in their academic, social and emotional learning. Access to early childhood learning opportunities, care and supports are key. High quality care and learning environments beginning at birth are critical to the success of North Carolina's Children and set the foundation for how they are positioned to succeed in school and beyond. Early childhood education is typically defined as the span of time between birth through age eight and includes childcare, informal and formal education and literacy. North Carolina face challenges in all of these areas pre pandemic, and each has been affected even more by Covid 19. According to recent research that was released before the pandemic, only half of all North Carolina parents were able to access any type of center based or formal early childhood care. Six months into the pandemic, that rate fell to less than one in three. Further, the analysis finds that households of color face more early education challenges, the care they rely on, his lower quality with fewer employers supports. And the pandemic has disproportionately impaired their access to child care for our economic recovery and future prosperity, it is important that North Carolina takes swift action to ensure all of our Children are well cared for and well prepared for academic and social success. There are many ingredients that contribute to creating a high quality early learning environment, ranging from innovative pedagogical approaches to expanding out of the classroom supports for families and Children. Many of these ideas we heard about from our guest today, and they are also lifted up as key action steps to take in a comprehensive plan filed last week in the Leandro case. We know that early childhood learning opportunities, care and support to make a huge difference for our students a different that last well beyond the early years and throughout a child's education and career. We understand how the brain works and what is needed to ensure that our youngest Children have the opportunity to reach their potential. While there is much work to be done. We can build on the successes of our current programs and know where the investments are needed. So much of a person's brain development happens before they get to kindergarten and through the early years of schooling. And we must continue to expand how we think about the education continuum for our students, our families and our state's workforce and economy. Thank you for taking time with us to learn and think about education. That's all for today, and we'll see you next week. Mhm.