Blog

By Marsha Basloe, CCSA President

Publicly supported preschool services for 4-year-olds is a huge need in Durham County, yet NC Pre-K does not have all its seats filled for this school year, which starts in only a few weeks.

According to the Durham County Government, there are nearly 4,000 4-year-olds each year in Durham County, about half of whom live in households making less than $50,000 a year. Children from lower-income households are often left behind their peers, furthering inequality and setting the stage for an achievement gap that persists through high school. As a vibrant, growing community, Durham recognizes the short- and long-term benefits of a high quality early childhood program for the community, but most especially for children and their families, particularly those earning low-incomes.

Our research found there are six low-income preschool children for every one publicly funded preschool space in Durham through programs such as NC Pre-K, Durham Public Schools and Head Start. With funding from the Durham County Government, the Durham PreK umbrella offers the opportunity for universal services for all 4-year-olds in Durham County through these programs.

“Durham is making a bold investment in the future by supporting early education for our young children,” said Linda Chappel, Senior Vice President of Triangle Area Child Care Resources and Referral Services at Child Care Services Association (CCSA). “We will not rest while some of our children are left behind, furthering inequality and setting the stage for the achievement gap that persists through high school and beyond.”

As president of CCSA, I have authorized CCSA’s Triangle Area Child Care Resource and Referral Services Division to make this our number one priority, and I hope Durham’s Partnership for Children and Durham Public Schools do the same.

Every child deserves affordable, accessible, high-quality child care, and Durham PreK works to ensure just that. We hope to be able to utilize every spot for Durham PreK, Durham County’s commitment to high-quality publicly-funded preschool for all 4-year-olds.

Durham’s Partnership for Children is still accepting applications for enrollment for this school year. Families can apply for NC Pre-K by contacting Durham’s Partnership for Children at 919-403-6960 or by visiting dpfc.net/our-work/ncpk/. CCSA works with the Partnership to enroll children in the Durham PreK program once they are in NC Pre-K.

About Durham PreK:

Durham PreK is committed to improving the quality of preschool programs by providing financial support, training opportunities for teachers and increasing eligibility for families to enroll their child. Beginning in 2018, Durham County Government has committed to equitable access to high-quality preschool for all children in Durham. Investments will not only increase the number of publicly funded pre-K slots but also broaden eligibility and work with teachers and private centers to build their quality through teacher and director education, mentoring and coaching. For more information, visit https://www.childcareservices.org/durham-prek/.

About Child Care Services Association:

Founded in 1974, Child Care Services Association’s mission is to ensure affordable, accessible, high-quality child care for all young children and their families. Using a holistic approach, CCSA supports children and families find child care in the Triangle, helps child care professionals improve the quality of early education children receive and provides scholarship resources so all families can afford and access high-quality early care and education. CCSA also provides healthy meals for children at child care centers throughout the Triangle with our Meal Services program. Our T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood®, Child Care WAGE$® and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ programs give child care educators the means to obtain an education and supplement their salary based on that education, increasing teacher education, retention and compensation. CCSA also licenses T.E.A.C.H. and WAGE$ across the U.S. and conducts early childhood systems research and policy development statewide and nationally. For more information, visit www.childcareservices.org.

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Kellie and her family on the day of her graduation.

Kellie Toney is an early childhood educator in Cleveland County. As a recipient of Child Care WAGE$®, she sent the following letter to her North Carolina legislators:

“I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for your support of the WAGE$ program funded through Smart Start. Without this supplement, I would not have had the opportunity to complete my Bachelor’s degree while working as an assistant teacher with Cleveland County Schools. The checks I have received through this program have [gone] towards my tuition and textbooks. Without this program, I likely would not have been able to get through school without student loans. Thank you so much for supporting this program, which played such a vital role in the completion of my Birth-Kindergarten Education Bachelor’s degree. This program truly helps those of us shaping the youngest minds through private child care and public education.”

Kellie began her career in early childhood education as an assistant teacher in Head Start. “I love children. I love to be there for all of the ‘firsts’ in learning. When children arrive in NC Pre-K and Head Start, most have never been in [child care] or spent very much time learning. I am there to guide them as they begin to write their name, interact with peers and explore the world around them,” Kellie said.

After some time, Kellie began wanting a role where she could plan what to teach the children, so she decided to go back to school to complete her Birth-Kindergarten Education Bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University.

With high college tuition, textbooks and transportation expenses, Kellie’s husband had to work overtime to help her afford to go back to school. They also took out a home equity line to pay for some of her classes.

Fortunately, through Child Care Connections and a college instructor from Cleveland Community College, Kellie heard about Child Care Services Association’s Child Care WAGE$® compensation program. “WAGE$ helped me to graduate debt-free. With the help of WAGE$ funds and Education Incentive Grants, I did not ever need to take out student loans. I was able to save these funds and used them to pay for textbooks, coursework and required trips to East Carolina University,” Kellie said, “With the WAGE$ funds, we paid back [our] loans and used the remaining funding to pay for new coursework.”

Kellie felt compelled to contact and thank her legislators for their support of Smart Start, which the Cleveland County Partnership for Children, Inc. used to provide WAGE$. “WAGE$ enabled me to continue my education. This in turn benefits my students because I was equipped with the skills and knowledge to better educate my students… I want to ensure funds are available for [all] teachers.”

Learn more about Child Care WAGE$, and check out a similar program for Infant-Toddler teachers, Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$. To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as WAGE$ and AWARD$, please consider donating today.

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

In May, the Program Evaluation Division[1] (PED) within the North Carolina General Assembly released a new report, “North Carolina Should Focus on Early Childhood Learning in Order to Raise Achievement in Predominantly Disadvantaged School Districts.”[2]

PED was right – addressing the achievement gap requires much more attention to a child’s earliest years. While Pre-K expansion was recommended, research points to the birth to age 3 period of a child’s life as the time when the largest impact on a child’s development is possible. This period of early childhood must also be taken into account as we plan for the future for all NC families.

PED was charged with reviewing school districts nationwide with high poverty rates and at least average achievement by students to see if there were common strategies that could be used within North Carolina school districts. The project addressed three research questions,[3]

  1. What are the characteristics of school districts that have high percentages of economically disadvantaged students yet demonstrate high academic performance?
  2. What policies or practices are high-achieving disadvantaged districts implementing that may contribute to student performance?
  3. What policies or practices could North Carolina implement in order to improve performance in districts with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students?

The results were sobering. PED found that local school districts throughout the country struggled in attaining grade level or better student performance. In fact, PED identified only 5% of predominantly economically disadvantaged school districts that also had grade level or better student performance over a 7-year period.[4] Within North Carolina, 45 of 115 school districts were identified as predominantly economically disadvantaged, which is about 39% of North Carolina school districts.  Of those 45 school districts, only 7 (about 16%) met the bar of student performance at grade level (or above).[5]  While higher than the national average, 16% is nothing to boast about.

What PED found was that within economically disadvantaged school districts where students are performing well (at grade level or above), third grade is an important marker. Student growth occurs after 3rd grade but that efforts to address student competencies before grade 3 are most important in reducing the achievement gap.[6]

PED conducted interviews within 12 economically disadvantaged school districts (comparable to school districts within North Carolina) with grade level (or above) student performance to see if there were any common strategies that led to higher student outcomes. One of the factors that the 12 school districts had in common was a significant investment in public pre-kindergarten (pre-K).  Pre-K in two of the school districts (Durant Independent School District in Oklahoma and Steubenville City Schools in Ohio) target both three- and four-year-old children for enrollment. Four of the five North Carolina counties in which case study districts were located had 75% or more of eligible children participating in NC Pre-K.

However, PED notes that current funding enables only 47% of low-income eligible children statewide to participate in NC Pre-K.[7]

The PED report makes two recommendations.

Recommendation #1.  The General Assembly should require low-performing school districts to include an early childhood improvement plan as a component of their required plans for improvement.[8]  PED calls for the development of specific strategies aimed at boosting achievement from pre-K to 3rd grade and lists expanding pre-K, improving pre-K quality, ensuring alignment of pre-K curricula with elementary school curricula, developing transition plans, providing professional development that focuses on early learning and providing instructional coaching focused on pre-kK through 3rd grade.

Recommendation #2. The General Assembly should require an assessment of early childhood learning as part of the Department of Public Instruction’s comprehensive needs assessment process for districts.[9]

While those of us who have worked in the early childhood education field are glad to see the recommendations related to pre-K, and agree the NC Pre-K program should be fully-funded so all eligible children have an opportunity to participate, children are not born at age four.

Research shows that pre-K makes a difference in a child’s school readiness, particularly for low-income children. However, that same research also notes that a child’s gains in pre-K are directly related to his or her prior experiences before pre-K.[10]  

Neuroscience research shows that a child’s earliest years, from birth to age three, play a critical role in the development of brain wiring that lays a foundation for all future learning.[11]  In the first years of life, more than one million neural connections are formed every second.[12] 

Source: Harvard University Center on the Developing Child

This wiring frames the architecture upon which all future abilities are built. While people learn throughout their lives, a child’s earliest years are critical because they set the foundation. Genes and experiences help shape a young child’s brain development,[13] which begin long before a child enters pre-K.  And, remediation strategies are much more difficult as children (and adults) age.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest data, throughout North Carolina:

  • 356,007 children are under age three[14]
  • 465,783 children are under age six who also have working parents (young children residing in two-parent families where both parents work or in a single-parent family where the head of household works)[15]

Young children with working mothers are in child care every week for about 36 hours according to the Census Bureau.[16]  Most of these children are not age four; they are not in pre-K. This is why any directive to the General Assembly to address the achievement gap, which rightly calls for addressing the early childhood landscape, has to not only focus on access to pre-K but also must focus on access to high-quality child care and the early childhood workforce that cares for our youngest children.

Child Care Services Association works locally with Think Babies™ NC and the leadership team as well as with national organizations on the importance of the prenatal to three years through. The Pritzker Children’s Initiative is dedicated to building a promising future for our country by focusing investment and support nationally in children at the earliest stages of life, particularly from birth to age three. Zero to Three and Child Trends just released the State of Babies Yearbook. North Carolina’s profile can be found here.

We applaud PED’s call for low performing school districts to include an early childhood improvement plan and an assessment of early learning opportunities as part of district comprehensive needs assessments. However, early learning is not limited to pre-K settings. High-quality child care programs are important early learning settings at all ages. Any needs assessment and early childhood improvement plans that are derived from such a landscape review must include our youngest children. Child development, school readiness and reducing the achievement gap depend on it.


[1] The Program Evaluation Division (PED) is a central, non-partisan unit of the Legislative Services Commission of the North Carolina General Assembly that assists the General Assembly in fulfilling its responsibility to oversee government functions.
[2] North Carolina Should Focus on Early Childhood Learning in Order to Raise Achievement in Predominantly Disadvantaged School Districts, Final Report of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, Report #2019-06, May 20, 2019.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] National Institute of Early Education Research, Barriers to Expansion of NC Pre-K: Problems and Potential Solutions, 2018.      
[8] North Carolina Should Focus on Early Childhood Learning in Order to Raise Achievement in Predominantly Disadvantaged School Districts, Final Report of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, Report #2019-06, May 20, 2019.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Foundation for Child Development, Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education. Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Christina Weiland, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Margaret R. Burchinal, Linda M. Espinosa, William T. Gormley, Jens Ludwig, Katherine A. Magnuson, Deborah Phillips, Martha J. Zaslow. (2013).
[11] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. The Science of Early Childhood Development.
[12] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. Brain Architecture.
[13] Ibid.
[14] U.S. Census Bureau, Table B09001, 2017 American Community Survey, 1 year estimates.
[15] U.S. Census Bureau, Table B23008, 2017 American Community Survey, 1 year estimates.
[16] U.S. Census Bureau, Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011, released April 2013.

By Linda Chappel, Vice President, Triangle Area Child Care Resource and Referral Services at Child Care Services Association

This week the Best of The Triangle 2019 was published in INDYWEEK, naming most favorite activities, foods and events voted on by readers and described as the “wisdom of the crowd.” I present the Best of the Triangle as Durham PreK.

In 2018, the Durham County Commission voted to make historic local investments to open access for more 4-year old children to high quality preschool services. At a time when North Carolina’s legislators are talking about funding virtual preschool, Durham is boldly creating face-to-face opportunities for children with local funds.

A primary goal of Durham PreK is supporting the learning and development of young children to improve the quality of their lives now and in the future. We know from years of research that high quality preschool enhances children’s school readiness by providing substantial early learning, which can have lasting effects far into a child’s later years of school and life.

Research finds high quality preschool programs can accomplish this goal by producing large and lasting gains in outcomes such as “achievement, educational attainment, personal and social behavior (e.g., reductions in crime), adult health, and economic productivity.”[1] These gains are broad and last long into adulthood.

The importance of funding pre-K in Durham

At CCSA, our research found there are six low-income preschool children for every one publicly funded preschool space in Durham through programs such as NC Pre-K, Durham Public Schools and Head Start.

Currently, more than 25% of Durham census tracts with more than 50 low-income preschoolers have no publicly funded preschool slots. In a random survey of approximately 2,000 Durham parents, 92% of parents rated cost-free preschool as desirable or essential. [2]

Durham PreK benefits the community

While a child’s success in school and life addresses our society’s greater good, children from lower-income households are often left behind, furthering inequality and setting the stage for the achievement gap that persists through high school. As a vibrant, growing community, Durham recognizes the short- and long-term benefits of attendance in a high quality early childhood program for children, their families and the community.

These benefits range from reduced need for special education services or remedial support during the K-12 years to increased tax revenue and reduced dependency on government assistance in adulthood. Researchers quantified these benefits and found a return on investment of $3-$13 for every dollar invested in early childhood. Even at the low end of this estimate, this is a significant return.

With an abundance of evidence that high-quality universal preschool could reduce the disparities in skills among subgroups of children at kindergarten entry, Durham’s policymakers are focusing considerable resources on the development and expansion of quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds.[3]

Durham PreK will help improve the quality of early education in Durham County by improving classroom instruction, supporting family engagement and building capacity for high quality through practice based coaching, while expanding access to publicly funded preschool services for all the county’s 4-year-olds. A critical component of this initiative is the implementation of preschool classrooms in diverse settings, including public schools and community-based programs. Durham PreK provides teachers and directors with regular coaching and professional development on cultural competence and social-emotional learning and conducts quality improvement activities to enhance children’s classroom experiences.

Unlike many programs around the country, Durham PreK requires teachers hold a Birth to Kindergarten teaching certificate and that they be paid at the same salary level as teachers in Durham Public Schools. Durham PreK places this emphasis on the teachers’ compensation to attract and retain the most qualified teachers.

Our overall goal in Durham is to improve the quality of and access to preschool programs for more children. We started with an ambitious two-year plan that runs through July 2020. We know this will be a journey that builds each year until we can serve all Durham’s children and ensure their life-long success. Durham PreK plans to stay Best of the Triangle.


[1] Phillips, D.A., Lipsey, M.W., Dodge, K.A., Haskins, R., Bassok, D., Burchinal, M.R.,…Weiland, C. (2017). Puzzling it out: The current state of scientific knowledge on pre-kindergarten effects, a consensus statement. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. Downloaded July 24, 2017 from https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/consensus-statement_ final.pdf

[2] Durham Supply and Demand Study, Child Care Services Association, (2018). https://www.childcareservices.org/research/research-reports/early-childhood-system-studies/

[3] Phillips, D. A., et al. (2018). The changing landscape of publicly-funded center-based child care: 1990-2012. Children and Youth Services Review, 91, 94-104; Cascio, E. U. (2017). Does universal preschool hit the target? Program access and preschool impacts. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research; Yoshikawa, H., et al. (2013). Investing in our future: The evidence on preschool education. New York: Society for Research in Child Development and the Foundation for Child Development.

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

As the President of Child Care Services Association, a mother and a grandmother, I have been following the advancement of HB 485, the Virtual Early Learning Pilot program, under consideration by the North Carolina State Legislature. The 3-year pilot would allow up to 10 school districts to offer online pre-k to at-risk, 4 year-old children, at a cost of $500,000 per year for the next three years.

I know that every year, state legislators are forced to make difficult decisions in allocating state funding. I can imagine that there is great pressure with these decisions and that legislators look for ways to save money, while still achieving intended outcomes. With regard to state pre-k funding and the goal to have all children throughout North Carolina enter school with the skills to succeed, it is important for legislators to understand how young children learn and what school readiness really means.

Decades of research show that the greatest gains made by children in pre-k occur where teacher interactions with children promote critical thinking skills as well as concept knowledge through warm and responsive relationships.[1]  This isn’t by chance. It’s by design. It’s in-person. It’s individualized to meet each child where he or she is at to build on strengths and build up areas that are not as strong.

Numerous evaluations have shown the importance of instructional, social, and emotional serve-and-return interactions that occur daily between teachers and children, as well as among classmates”[2] that result in developmental gains across early childhood domains (e.g., social and emotional, language and literacy, critical thinking and physical development). These interactions “motivate and deepen learning, enable children to organize and focus their attention and other capacities needed to learn, and promote peer cooperation and support,”[3] which comprise the foundation for school readiness. It’s about soft-skill development as well as concept development related to letters and numbers.

In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to visit pre-k classrooms and talk to pre-k teachers. Too many of our at-risk 4 year-olds haven’t been read to; they don’t know that books contain words and pictures that tell a story, that letters have sounds and that stories have a sequence – a beginning, a middle and an end. Some have never held a pencil or colored with crayons or written their name. Some haven’t held a pair of scissors or developed the dexterity to use a pencil or have ever put together a puzzle. You would think by age 4, children would know colors and basic shapes, but some do not.

The same children might know how to watch a video on a parent’s phone, but they can’t wait their turn or share, they can’t transition between activities and they don’t know how to use their words to express their thoughts or feelings in a group setting – to lead, follow or just get along with peers. They may or may not have consistent rules at home so they don’t know how to manage themselves appropriately and follow rules in a classroom. These are soft-skills that are learned in a hands-on experience that can’t be learned through a computer lesson.

Pre-k programs also screen children for vision, hearing, speech and physical development and help identify children who could benefit from early intervention services in areas where there may be a delay. None of this can occur through an online preschool experience – at least not in an effective manner.

The NC Pre-K program works. Studies have found that NC Pre-K raises children’s literacy, math and social-emotional skills not just for kindergarten entry[4] but also throughout elementary school and the most recent research shows gains through middle school.[5]

When kindergarten teachers are asked what school readiness means and what skills are most important for school readiness, their top responses include: children who can regulate their impulses, pay attention, listen to and follow directions, be willing to try different tasks (e.g., have self-confidence), engage in self-care, get along with peers and have motor skills such as the ability to hold a pencil.[6]

Despite the strong evaluations of NC Pre-K, current funding supports fewer than half of eligible children. To me, the answer should be to adequately fund NC Pre-K so that 4 year-old children can attend, not divert resources to an online preschool that misses the mark on what matters most for early childhood development – effective interactions with children. Not screen time.

There is still time to course correct on state budget issues. We don’t need a 3-year pilot that diverts $1.5 million from additional pre-k seats for children. Let’s put every dollar possible into expanding what works. And, for 4-year old children, that’s a setting that promotes interactions with teachers and peers.


[1] Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education, Society for Research in Child Development and Foundation for Child Development, 2013. https://www.fcd-us.org/assets/2013/10/Evidence20Base20on20Preschool20Education20FINAL.pdf

[2] The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects, Deborah A. Phillips of Georgetown University, Mark W. Lipsey of  Vanderbilt University, Kenneth A. Dodge of Duke University, Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, Daphna Bassok  of the University of Virginia, Margaret R. Burchinal of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Greg J. Duncan of the University of California-Irvine, Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institution, Katherine A. Magnuson  of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Christina Weiland of the University of Michigan. (2017).  https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/duke_prekstudy_final_4-4-17_hires.pdf

[3] Ibid.

[4] North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program Evaluation Key Findings (2002–2016), Frank Porter Graham Institute, University of North Carolina, 2017. https://fpg.unc.edu/sites/fpg.unc.edu/files/resources/reports-and-policy-briefs/Summary%20of%20NC%20Pre-K%20Evaluation%20Findings%205-2017.pdf

[5] Evaluation of North Carolina’s Smart Start and NC Pre-K Programs: Follow-Up Through Eighth Grade, Duke University, December 2018. https://duke.app.box.com/s/pw3zv27a2jkmfas2j183yg4ekamxzl8y

[6] What Kindergarten Readiness Means to Kindergarten Teachers, New America. 2009. https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/early-elementary-education-policy/early-ed-watch/what-kindergarten-readiness-means-to-kindergarten-teachers/