A group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers recently announced in a press conference that addressing early childhood education policy would be a priority this legislative session.

Legislators are considering five bills this year that would impact early childhood education in North Carolina. Collectively, the bills increase state funding for childcare subsidies, create a pilot program to split childcare costs differently, increase obstetric coverage, extend federal childcare compensation grants, and make reforms to improve the quality rating system for childcare centers.

The five bills:

The bill would increase rates for obstetric coverage “to at least seventy-one percent (71%) of the Medicare rate [or] the Medicaid rate paid for obstetrics maternal bundle payments for pregnancy care.”

This bill creates a pilot program in three counties, which D.H.H.S. and the North Carolina Partnership for Children will determine. It would divide the cost of child care between an employee, their employer, and the state government.

This bill would appropriate $300 million from the state’s General Fund “to extend the compensation grants portion of the child care stabilization grants,” which are grants given to child care centers. The state must exhaust federal resources before tapping into state funds, which this bill allows.

This bill would “increase the child care subsidy market rates to the seventy-fifth percentile as recommended by the 2021 Child Care Market Rate Study for children in three-, four-, and five-star-rated child care centers and homes.” Additionally, when the same study recommends new rates, the bill would “automatically increase the child care subsidy rates to the seventy-fifth percentile of those recommended rates” going forward.

House Bill 343 would cost taxpayers at least $206 million in the first year, most of which would be covered by federal funds. However, state funds ($24 million) will cover the gap in the second year and, by the third year, will be responsible for covering the entire sum.

This bill would extend the deadline for star system assessment reporting, which was previously extended during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill also requires the North Carolina Child Care Commission to recommend reforms to the quality rating improvement system by March 31, 2024.

Governor Cooper:

The federal government sent North Carolina $800 million in “childcare stabilization” grants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Roy Cooper called the grants a “triple play” during his State of the State speech last week—the grant money will provide “education for the child, a job earning money for the parent, and a badly needed employee for the business,” Cooper said. “We need to fill them with high-quality staff and keep those childcare centers open.”

The press conference:

A woman from Rockingham County started the press conference, calling on state lawmakers to pass childcare legislation.

“We need lawmakers to treat this crisis like the emergency it is,” Daphne Alsiyao, a mom of three, told the press on Thursday while standing in front of legislative proponents.

Alsiyao said she and her husband are moving from Rockingham County to Forsyth County, where they will be looking for childcare for two of their children.

Rep. David Willis, R-Union, is the lead sponsor of each of these five bills. He said these drafts are compromises between Democrats and Republicans and that changes are still likely to be made before the legislation is final.

In 2022, Democrats filed legislation to appropriate $180 million from the General Fund to fund Pre-K slots for eligible four-year-olds, $45 million to subsidize childcare, $159 million to make school lunches free, and $10 million for community colleges operating public childcare programs.

In the press conference, Willis emphasized that the bill is bipartisan and said the business and education communities were aligned on this issue.

“Affordable childcare is a complicated and important topic,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation “Still, in moving forward, we need to ensure our policies help families, businesses, and taxpayers and don’t merely prolong a troubled system.”  

Burgin, a supporter of the legislation, said the current proposed solution is not sustainable in the long run.

“We have about 116,000 children born in this state each year,” Burgin said. “About 52% of those are born under the Medicaid system, and I firmly believe that child care begins at conception. So what this bill will do is it will pay for doulas to be involved from conception through birth.”

“Long term, we have to figure something else out, but let me tell you what happened,” Burgin said. “When we took the money from the federal government, and we spent on childcare, we basically gave them a raise. You could say it was one-time money, but after you give somebody a raise and they have it for a year, you can’t take it away from them. So we created the situation, and we’ve got to figure out what to do with it.”