ROB THOMPSON: Legislature's funding shift sets back expanded affordable child care

Posted June 1, 2018 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 2:08 p.m. EDT

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Rob Thompson is deputy director of NC Child. He oversees the organization’s communications, research, and advocacy staff and programs.

If you ever want to strike up a conversation with the working parent of a young child, just mention the brutally high cost of child care. Many of us pay as much for child care as we do our mortgage. For some, the cost of care could be more than they can earn in a low-to moderate-wage job.

Perhaps the biggest testament to the need for more affordable child care in North Carolina is the astounding number of children on a waiting list for child care assistance—50,742.

Recognizing this need, Congress passed bipartisan legislation signed by President Donald Trump in March to provide states with the largest funding increase in history, $2.4 billion, to help more working families afford high quality child care. North Carolina’s share is $74 million, enough to provide more than 9,000 children with access to child care.

Unfortunately, this year’s state budget misses a historic opportunity to expand access to desperately needed high-quality child care. Instead of fully investing these new federal dollars to strengthen and expand early learning opportunities, the state budget uses $50 million for other purposes.

The remaining funds are used to increase reimbursement rates for child care providers and provide access to 3,700 additional children. But the legislature could have used this federal funding to provide over 9,000 of these children with access to high-quality care.

Additionally, and as a result of the $50 million funding shuffle, North Carolina Pre-kindergarten is slated to lose $50 million in state funding that will be replaced with $50 million in federal funding. By making the state’s Pre-K more reliant on federal funding, legislators are weakening the financial stability of the program.

State lawmakers have no control over future federal funding decisions. Without dedicated state dollars for the program, the fate of NC Pre-K funding will largely be determined by U.S. Congresses of the future.

Given the well-documented need for affordable child care, it’s no surprise that overwhelming majorities of North Carolina voters regardless of political affiliation, want state policymakers to do more to make early childhood education care more affordable for working families: 78 percent of Republicans; 93 percent of unaffiliated voters; 97 percent of Democrats.

Failing to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity hurts children, working families, and runs against the will of North Carolina voters.

We hope legislative leaders revisit this decision and use all the expanded federal child care funding for its intended purpose -- strengthening and expanding access to child care in North Carolina.

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