‘Zero options for our family’
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Katie Walden, a mom of three in Garner, quit her job when she couldn’t find an affordable preschool option for her son. Her family is now struggling to make ends meet from a single income.
“There were zero options for us,” Walden said last Monday on a press call to mark the release of a report on the state of preschool across the country. “Zero options for our family that was living right outside our state’s capital.”
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER)’s annual State of Preschool Yearbook showed North Carolina’s 24% drop in pre-K enrollment from 2020 to 2021. This decline the case in almost every state — and the first time pre-K enrollment declined in 20 years.
“The pandemic erased an entire decade of progress in preschool enrollment,” said Steven Barnett, NIEER’s senior co-director and founder. “Challenges such as health risks, closed classrooms, and remote preschool disrupted an already fragile system.”
North Carolina reached 19% of 4-year-olds in 2021, compared to a steady 25% in recent years. The state is not “within reach” of universal pre-K, the report says, noting 16 states serving close to or above 70% of 4-year-olds. Barnett wrote in The Washington Post about pre-existing issues of quality, staffing shortages, and insufficient state funding (which has not changed in 20 years when adjusted for inflation).
“The cry for universal preschool can be heard at every playground, in every single moms group, and other struggling parent groups on Facebook and beyond,” she said. “This pandemic has caused so many families to be without quality care for their children. And I live in a place just like so many others where companies are begging for employees, but how can you return to work or keep current positions when we don’t have affordable quality care for our children?”
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Research & Resources: Let’s talk a map for innovative initiatives
Despite our challenges, there are a lot of people doing great work to support young children and families across the state. Wouldn’t it be great to keep track of more of that work?
The NC Early Childhood Foundation thought so too. The foundation released the first edition of its interactive Pathways Action Map last week. Eventually, the tool will include initiatives that support 44 goals that support these expectations of b-5 systems:
This first release focuses on the last bullet point and includes 18 initiatives working to improve the social-emotional health system in the state, along with information on the initiatives’ impact, funding, and contacts.
“We imagine the Action Map being used by policy makers, funders, and advocates to learn about what’s happening in the action areas, and help build capacity through improved policy, practice, and investment,” writes Mary Mathew, the foundation’s collaboration and policy leader, in this release. “Families, communities, and initiatives can also use it to connect and help drive local action.