Gov. Roy Cooper announced the investment of $805 million in the state's early child care and learning programs in early October.
The North Carolina Child Care Stabilization Grants will help early care and learning programs with recruitment, retention, improving wages and benefits for teachers and promoting equity for children, parents and teachers. State leaders also hope the grants will help child care centers recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The past year has emphasized how critical early child care is for children’s development and parents who need to work,” Cooper said in an Oct. 7 press release. “This help for quality child care will get more parents back into the workforce.”
The stabilization grants were made possible by funding through the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. The plan aims to deliver immediate relief to families and provide $130 billion to help schools across the country address learning loss and social and emotional needs for students who were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, according to information from the White House.
“A lot of children were not going to child care,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said. “They were staying home. A lot of parents were struggling with being essential workers or not working at all, and so we're not really sure that there was a good safety net for the young children.”
Hemminger said she is excited for the implications this new funding will have on the Chapel Hill community.
“We all know that early learning really helps children achieve, and it can help break the cycle of poverty and put us on a better path,” Hemminger said.
She said she would like to see this new funding go towards programs like Smart Start, an initiative meant to increase the quality of early child care and education across North Carolina.
“Whenever we can have dollars to get more children included and expand the program, it'll definitely have an effect on our community,” Hemminger said.
Hemminger said that as more families find themselves in a situation where both parents need to work, it is becoming increasingly important that these families have access to child care that provides a safe environment which fosters their ability to learn.
Rep. David Price, D-N.C., said in the Oct. 7 press release that he is proud of the new funding and the stabilization it can bring to education in North Carolina.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the gaps that exist in our care infrastructure and reinforced how critical child care and early childhood educators are to the success of working families and the economy as a whole,” Price said. “I look forward to seeing child care providers across the state utilize these much needed resources as Congress works toward building an equitable child care system that works for all families through the Build Back Better Act.”
Alexa Adamo-Valverde is a Chapel Hill mother of two children, who are both students in the Chatham County Schools system. Adamo-Valverde said her younger child was in kindergarten when COVID-19 first hit and struggled to transition to online learning.
“He started kindergarten virtually, and just could not do it,” Adamo-Valverde said. “It was almost a mental health crisis in our home every day during that time. I’m a mental health therapist for children and families, and I was completely struggling with what to do.”
Adamo Valverde said she hopes the state will be effective in rolling out the grants and tracking the outcomes of this new funding so the public understands the impact of the investment.
“Funding alone will not be enough to help the education system recover from COVID,” Adamo-Valverde said. “Recovering from COVID financially, organizationally, emotionally, individually and collectively will take quite some time. But this funding is an important effort to make a difference in the education system for child care educators and working families with young children.”
Adamo-Valverde said that although her children have returned to in-person learning this year, they are still developing socially and emotionally in the context of the pandemic.
When they were watching a pre-COVID-19 era movie, Adamo-Valverde's son expressed concern that the characters in the movie would get sick because they were not wearing masks. She said the new $805 million in funding is an important effort to make a difference.
“These are very exciting opportunities to help North Carolina, and Chapel Hill specifically, heal from this changing but still very present pandemic,” Adamo-Valverde said.
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