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N.C. House budget calls for $135 million in childcare stabilization grants


N.C. House budget calls for $135 million in childcare stabilization grants

Jun 18, 2024 | 3:15 pm ET
By Greg Childress
N.C. House budget calls for $135 million in childcare stabilization grants
Childcare advocates rallied in Raleigh last week to support daycare centers. (Photo: Greg Childress)

The N.C. House released a proposed budget update Monday that would allocate $135 million for childcare stabilization grants to help soften the landing for childcare centers as federal COVID-pandemic money run out.

The House’s proposal, however, is $165 million short of the $300 million emergency allocation childcare advocates requested during a rally at the Legislative building last week. It’s also $65 million less than the $200 million Gov. Roy Cooper has proposed.

On Tuesday, Emma Biggs, a Charlotte daycare provider and childcare advocate, said the $135 million the House has offered is not enough to keep schools open and teachers in classrooms.

N.C. House budget calls for $135 million in childcare stabilization grants
Emma Biggs (File photo)

The emergency appropriation advocates requested is still needed ahead of June 30, the day the federal subsidies run out, Biggs said. Centers will close and teachers will leave before the House and the Senate reconcile budgets, she said.

“The proposed [House budget], we don’t have any faith in that because last year when they released their proposed budget, everything looked great until things got finalized,” Biggs said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forysth, said the House recognized that it could not leave Raleigh without addressing the childcare crisis.    

“The House budget continues 75% of current stabilization grants to keep childcare centers open and parents can remain in the workforce, while giving the state time to develop a more sustainable model for childcare costs,” Lambeth said.

Cooper, who visited the Early Learning Center Preschool in Charlotte on Tuesday, said the state’s Republican leadership has not adequately addressed the childcare crisis.

“A lack of access to child care is preventing parents from entering the workforce, meanwhile Republican legislators plan to spend $625 million on taxpayer-funded private school vouchers,” Cooper said in a statement. “We must address the upcoming funding cliff and invest in early childhood education and child care.”

Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper (File Photo)

Cooper’s budget proposal also includes:

  • $128.5 million for the Child Care Subsidy Program to increase rates that will benefit child care providers and families in rural and lower-wealth communities and $10 million for Smart Start. Investments will help recruit and retain early childhood educators by providing competitive wages, plus help for early childhood teachers to afford child care for their own children.
  • $197 million for the NC Pre-K Program to increase rates to cover the full cost for NC Pre-K students, which is needed to shore up the program.
  • $24.4 million for summer care and learning programs for students after they complete NC Pre-K and before they enter kindergarten.
  • A refundable child and dependent care tax credit worth up to $600 for the average family of four that will further reduce the burden of child care costs for working families.

“The proposed budget diverts more state money to private schools while failing to adequately fund compensation grants for child care providers, who receive one-time federal money,” the Center said in a statement. “The result is that this budget neither stabilizes the childcare system nor provides critical education services to all those in need and the state’s obligation to provide a sound, basic public education to every child goes unfunded.”

Newsline has previously reported, the state will soon spend the last of $1.3 billion in federal grant money that helped child care providers make it through the pandemic. Some of the money was used to increase worker pay.

Biggs said that staffing remains the biggest challenge for childcare providers due to low-pay, which has caused many teachers to leave the profession.

“Our teachers need a thriving wage, not a living wage, so they can go home and not have to work two or three jobs to take care of their families after taking care of everyone else’s,” Biggs said.

Biggs estimates that a “thriving wage” is $24 a hour. According to myFuture NC, a statewide nonprofit that focuses on educational attainment, “family-sustaining” wages in North Carolina range from $16.83 per hour for one working adult living alone to $42.45 per hour for one working adult supporting three children.

Many teachers in private daycares work without health insurance or a retirement plan, Biggs noted.

“I’ve been in this field for 27 years and I have neither one,” Biggs said. “Independent centers, we can’t afford to pay for retirement and health insurance.”

Just before the pandemic, Biggs said, her center could no longer pay for employee health care. The pay, however, was low enough that most employees qualified for health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

“Nobody comes into this business to make money,” Biggs said. “We have a passion for it and it’s a calling for us but we have to be able to pay our bills and keep our doors open.”

NC Newsline’s Lynn Bonner reported in April  that a North Carolina Child Care Resource and Referral Council survey found that 88% of childcare providers will need to increase parent fees when the federal money runs out. Forty percent said they would have to raise parent fees immediately. About half said they would lose administrative and teaching staff and about two-thirds said they would have trouble hiring new employees with comparable experience and education.

Nearly one-third of the programs surveyed said they would have to close within a year. That’s equivalent to more than 1,500 programs and close to 92,000 childcare and early education slots.