Blog

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

If any issue warrants public attention, public discussion and rethinking as to the best way to ensure families with young children have access to child care and pre-kindergarten, it is our nation’s current approach to the safety and healthy development of young children. It’s not a system as much as a patchwork quilt stitched together over decades. The federal government allocates funds to states through individual programs or funding streams (i.e., block grants), each with different rules, administered by different state agencies, and too often resulting in siloed approaches with little to no coordination or collaboration among state agencies, departments, divisions or communities.

In December 2019, Congress enacted the FY2020 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations measure, which included the following funding levels for early care and education programs:

Source: FY2020 non-defense consolidated appropriations bill (HR 1865, PL116-94) enacted on December 20, 2019.

In addition to the funding above, in FY2019, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture allocated $3.7 billion to states to support healthy meals and snacks for low-income children in child care centers and family child care homes [1] and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services allocated the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states, of which states chose to use $3.8 billion for child care and $2.6 billion for state pre-K. [2] The number of children served by TANF funds for child care or pre-K is unknown because the federal government only requires aggregate spending to be reported, not how many children are served, the setting children are in (homes or centers, licensed or unlicensed) or the average price paid per child. In all, that’s more than $35 billion through various federal funds for early care and education programs.

Child care is the largest early childhood program with $12.5 billion in funding and yet only about 17 percent of eligible children (based on state standards) receive a subsidy. [3] Many states have a waiting list for assistance, including North Carolina with a waiting list of more than 40,000 children. Families have a difficult time finding care, affording care, and then many parents express concern about the quality of care. Numerous national reports have been released about child care deserts, communities where the need for child care for parents of children under age 6 pales in comparison to the licensed supply of child care. [4] The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services released a report in October 2019 that found the supply of home-based care has declined by more than 97,000 providers since 2005. [5]

Why? Child care is a business. Child care centers tend to operate in areas where the population is dense enough with sufficient numbers of private-pay families who can afford weekly parent fees. The operating budget for child care centers largely comprises parent fees and therefore staff is hired at the lowest wages possible to hold costs down. In a good economy with low unemployment, like we have today, turnover is high because staff often can find better-paying jobs in fast food, retail sales or other jobs that require less training or education. Turnover also costs businesses because of the marketing, interviewing, hiring and training required for new staff.

For home-based providers, the hours are long and the pay is low. According to a 2019 economic impact report by the Committee for Economic Development, [6] the average annual income of home-based providers is approximately $15,000 per year, [7] 18% higher than in North Carolina, where the average income of home-based providers is $12,300. [8] The decline in home-based providers (who often serve infants and toddlers) is a hardship for parents, particularly those in rural communities where the economics of operating a center don’t work. Home-based care is often less expensive and providers may be more willing to stay open during nontraditional hours for those parents who work shift work or have long commutes to their job. Yet, again, wages drive interest in opening a home-based program (or closing one) because other jobs in the community may pay more with fewer hours and less stress.

The reality is that mothers are working today. Nationally, approximately 72 percent of mothers with children under age 6 are working outside of the home, [9] 65.4 percent of mothers with children age 2 are working [10] and, 57.8 percent of mothers with children under age 1 are working. [11] Many of these mothers need child care, but federal subsidies reach only one out of every six eligible children. Therefore, most families are forced to afford whatever they can find. However, in too many communities, the supply is not available, let alone affordable.

There is no doubt that if our nation’s early care and education system were designed today, it would look much different. If we can’t think out of the box about a new bold system to better meet the needs of families with young children, we will be stuck with incremental, minor band-aids that ignore the real problem: the system is under-financed and poorly designed. Parents can’t afford quality child care, but we know from the research that high-quality child care really matters to the healthy development of children, particularly in the earliest years as a child’s brain is developing the fastest, setting the architecture for all future social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills. [12]

Two decades ago, child care was a work support. Today, we know that it is a two-generation strategy. High-quality child care helps parents work and helps support the healthy development of children. In fact, parents who can’t access child care reduce their hours or drop out of the workforce. About 94 percent of those who involuntarily work part-time are mothers who cite child care problems as their reason for working part-time. [13]

In 2018, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released “Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education,” which reviewed the multiple funding streams for early care and education and made a number of recommendations. The NAS Committee, made up of early childhood experts and finance experts, recommended investing in early care and education at a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) aligned with the average of other member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The report recommended increasing funds in four phases, from at least $5 billion in phase one to $53 billion in phase four. [14]

However, it is not just about the money. It is also about program design and meeting the needs of families in urban and rural areas and in an array of settings that best meet the needs of the family and each individual child with an early education workforce that is trained and paid appropriately for the important work they do. 

Rethinking is always a bit more challenging than staying in the box with patchwork fixes. The current system isn’t working for low-income children whose families need a subsidy or the private market where working parents need access to affordable high-quality child care and early education programs. It is time for a discussion about a redesign.


[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Child and Adult Care Food Program, January 2020. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/ccsummar-1.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance, TANF expenditures FY2018. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource/tanf-financial-data-fy-2018

[3] U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Child Care: Access to Subsidies and Strategies to Manage Demand Vary Across States, 2016. https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/681652.pdf

[4] Center for American Progress, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2018/12/06/461643/americas-child-care-deserts-2018/; Child Care Aware of America, https://www.childcareaware.org/our-issues/research/mappingthegap/.

[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, 2019. https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/public/addressing_decreasing_fcc_providers_revised_final.pdf

[6] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] U.S. Census Bureau, Table S2301, Employment Status, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates.

[10] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table 6. Employment status of mothers with own children under age 3 years old by single year of age of youngest child and marital status, 2017-2018 averages.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. Brain Architecture. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/

[13] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[14] National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education, 2018.  https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24984/transforming-the-financing-of-early-care-and-education

By Cass Wolfe, CSO at Child Care Services Association

This year marks the 100th year anniversary of women’s right to vote in the United States, with the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Women waged a nearly 100-year effort, marked by setbacks and conflict while demanding the right to vote. Yet today, there are still significant efforts in several states to restrict voting for some groups of people. As such, it is important that those of us who can vote actually do vote. It is a right, a responsibility and a way to participate in the governance of our communities, state and nation. Don’t give up your right to someone whose opinions and views are different or maybe even the opposite of yours!

According to the United States Elections Project, only 49.6% of eligible North Carolina voters actually voted in 2018. Yet the voices of voters who care about issues that impact diverse families are necessary to increase funding and political interest in early childhood. With the complex, multi-layered challenges of the early care and education system, it is increasingly clear that additional political will and government funding are critical to improving early care and education for every child, parent, teacher and director.

For the first time ever, the major candidates for U.S. president have policy stances on child care and early education. The candidates have varying positions, some supporting pre-kindergarten for all, while others are advocating for more comprehensive birth to 5 programming and parent fee relief. Look at each candidate’s website to learn about their priorities for children, families and more.

The point is, each of us has an opportunity to help shape the conversation around child care and to support the candidates we each feel speak to our concerns the most clearly. But you have to be registered to vote. Fortunately, you have two options!

  • While North Carolina’s primary is Tuesday, March 3, 2020 and only those registered by February 7th can vote in this primary, you can participate in early voting and register when you are at the polling place. Early voting is February 13 – February 29 and is very convenient, with a variety of dates, times and locations. Click on your county’s name to get the Durham, Orange and Wake early voting schedules. If you live in a different county, click here.
  • Registered voters can also vote by absentee ballot (requests for absentee ballots must be made by February 25).

Finally, if you think you are registered, click here to ensure you are still registered.

One last important bit of information for the primary is that contrary to earlier information, you will not need any identification to vote.   

In addition to the presidential primary, there is also a primary contest for the U.S. Senate seat from North Carolina. There are also state and local offices on the ballot, including the governor’s, the lieutenant governor’s, the auditor’s and the treasurer’s offices. At the local level, school board, county commissioners and state legislative seats have multiple people running for office. 

There are many choices that influence decisions about our neighborhoods, our children’s schools, our state and our country. One example of local decision-making is Durham PreK. Voters’ support for access to publicly supported preschool for all 4-year olds led elected leaders to invest in young children.  These leaders with bold goals for children were voted in by citizens who cared. Your vote matters.

So go vote, take a friend or two with you, and wear your “I voted” sticker proudly. Finally, be sure to encourage all of the early childhood teachers and staff you know to join you in making a statement for our children. We need to vote since the children we are passionate about cannot vote. We need to vote for the future! 

For more information about voting in North Carolina, click here.

Ellen Devenny

Ellen Devenny (right) at her graduation in May 2019.

Determined. Dedicated. Committed. Those are just a few words that describe Child Care WAGE$® participant, Ellen Devenny. Ellen works as an assistant teacher at a five-star private NC Pre-K center in Gaston County and just graduated in May 2019 with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education with a 4.0 GPA. She walked across the stage at age 62.

Ellen was 50 years old when she started work on her degree. She said, “It has taken me a long time, but I remained determined to see it through to completion. I would not have been able to have done this without the support of programs like T.E.A.C.H. and WAGE$. Because of my education, I feel more confident as a teacher.”

Ellen’s passion for her career and the children in her care is clear. “My favorite thing about working with young children is… everything! It is rewarding to see how they grow and learn new things during the school year. I love to see the child that struggled with feelings of insecurity walk away at the end of the year full of confidence. I love seeing children with special needs accomplish things that other children take for granted. I love working with children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and learning from each. This year, we have families representing China, Pakistan, Jordan, India, Columbia and Mexico. How can I not love working with young children?”

Fortunately for the children in her center, Ellen plans to remain in the field for as long as she can. “I began working with children in 1974, and that desire to continue has remained strong.”

Learn more about Child Care WAGE$® here.

Learn more about T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarships here.

By Marsha Basloe, President, and Linda Chappel, Sr. Vice President, Child Care Services Association

This past week, Durham PreK’s new website launched as a place for Durham County families to find information about enrolling 4-year-old children in Durham PreK, to find other local resources related to early childhood development and to learn about Durham’s commitment to equitable, high-quality education for all young children.

What is Durham PreK?

Durham PreK classrooms are located in private child care centers, Durham Public Schools and Head Start classrooms. With funding from the Durham County Board of Commissioners, the intent is to both enhance the quality of preschool programs and expand the number of children served through state and federally funded preschool programs. The goal is universal public PreK for all Durham County 4-year-old children – with preschool services offered for free for families with income at or below 300% of the federal poverty threshold and a sliding fee scale for families with income above 300% of poverty.

Why is pre-K important for young children?

Studies show that children who attend full-day high-quality pre-K programs are much more likely to start school with the skills to succeed, much more likely to perform at grade level and much more likely to graduate high school. A 2017 State of Durham County’s Young Children report found that only 38% of Durham children entering kindergarten had preliteracy skills at grade level (i.e., 62% of Durham children started kindergarten behind).

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recently released third-grade end of year test scores for those children who were in kindergarten in 2014-2015. For Durham, the gaps in grade level reading are enormous – by income, by race and by ethnicity. It’s easy to connect the dots. When children don’t start kindergarten ready to succeed, despite remediation efforts, the competency gaps remain. Children don’t fall behind in third grade, they start behind in kindergarten.

We can do better to prepare our children for school (and life)

That’s the message behind Durham PreK. Child Care Services Association is the management agency for Durham PreK and works collaboratively with Durham County Government, Durham’s Partnership for Children, Durham Public Schools, Durham Head Start and numerous other community partners to expand access to high-quality pre-K classrooms for Durham’s 4-year-olds.

County funding is used to not only serve more children but also to broaden eligibility for children to participate and to work with teachers and private centers to strengthen their quality through teacher and director support, mentoring and coaching. Going beyond licensing standards and NC Pre-K standards, Durham PreK provides instruction and coaching to strengthen the interactions between teachers and children.

Research shows that gains made across child development domains are higher when teacher interactions are more effective, intentional and geared toward the development of critical thinking skills and social-emotional development in children.[1]

Using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®)

The professional development tool used in Durham PreK is called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®) developed by the University of Virginia and used in 23 state quality rating and improvement systems, many state and local public pre-K programs, and by every Head Start program across the country.[2]

CLASS is both an assessment system and a professional development coaching system. Studies have consistently demonstrated greater gains by children (including dual language learning children) in key areas of school readiness – including literacy, math, social-emotional development and self-regulation when children are in classrooms with more effective teacher-child interactions. International research demonstrates the validity of CLASS across a broad set of cultural contexts.[3]

Offering braided funding options

What makes Durham PreK unique is the community has all leaned in to make a difference for children. Where possible, funding is braided so a mix of funding supports classrooms, which promotes greater diversity among participating children. Every child receives a developmental screening, and screening results, general program eligibility, parent preference and distance from home are all taken into consideration during the child placement process.

For programs to be eligible to participate in Durham PreK, they must be a 5-star rated child care center, lead pre-K teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and either have or be working toward a Birth to Kindergarten license. Onsite curriculum implementation support, professional development and education planning, teacher improvement strategies tied to CLASS®, leadership development for program directors and other supports for continuous quality improvement are provided.

Durham PreK’s plan to expand

Estimates are that there are about 4,450 4-year-old children in Durham.[4]  In the 2019-2020 school year, the intent is for 1,200 children to participate in public pre-K, an increase of about 245 children from last year. The overall goal over the next few years is to expand each year so that Durham PreK will be available to all families with 4-year-old children who choose to participate.

There are still some open spots for children. If you have a child who turned 4-years-old by August 31 or if you know a family with a 4-year-old, let them know – Durham PreK is open for business. To complete an application, call 919-403-6960 to speak to a coordinator (bilingual support is available), or you can download the Universal Preschool Application here

If we all lean in, all our children can enter kindergarten ready to succeed!


[1] Effective Teacher-Child Interactions and Child Outcomes: A Summary of Research on the Classroom  Assessment  Scoring System (CLASS®) Pre-K–3rd Grade (2017).

[2] CLASS®: A Leading QRIS Standard (2019).

[3] Teachstone research summary (2019)

[4] Voluntary, Universal Pre-kindergarten in Durham County How Do We Get There From Here? By Durham’s Community Early Education/Preschool Task Force.

Written by Allison Miller, VP of Compensation Initiatives at CCSA

Early Educator’s Day

Australia has the right idea. They celebrate Early Educator’s Day on September 4, 2019. We should do the same! We have National Provider’s Day in May, but shouldn’t we celebrate teachers who work with our young children at every opportunity? They deserve our recognition; children need them, parents need them and the nation needs them. They truly are the workforce behind the workforce.

The Workforce Behind the Workforce Deserves Better Compensation

Early educators make it possible for other professionals to go to their jobs, to lend their expertise to the community, to grow the economy. To be productive in the workforce, parents need peace of mind that can only come from knowing their children are in safe, stable, positive and engaging environments with teachers who can appropriately guide their learning.

It’s a lot to expect when early childhood teachers, on average, earn $10.97 per hour in North Carolina. It’s not an easy problem to solve because most parents cannot afford to pay more than they do. That’s where the Child Care WAGE$® Program comes in.

A Compensation Strategy: The Child Care WAGE$® Program

Early educators deserve to be paid commensurate with their education and the importance of their jobs. Sadly, that’s simply not the case. The Child Care WAGE$® Program is an education-based salary supplement program for teachers, directors and family child care providers working with children birth to five. Awards are issued after the eligible participant has completed at least six months with the same child care program.

As a result of this additional compensation, early educators not only earn more, but they are more likely to stay and increase their education. The quality of child care is improved when turnover rates are low, education is high and compensation is fair.

WAGE$ is made possible with the funding provided by the local Smart Start partnerships that elect to participate and the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education.

Does WAGE$ work?

Yes! In the fiscal year 2018-2019, WAGE$ recipients from the 55 participating N.C. counties earned an average six-month supplement of $974, which breaks down to about $.94 more per hour for full-time employment. The vast majority of participants had at least a two-year degree with significant early childhood coursework and they stayed in their programs. Only 14% left their employers last year, which is notably lower than turnover rates prior to WAGE$ availability.

WAGE$ Recognizes Early Educators

In addition to the program results of increased education, retention and compensation, WAGE$ recognizes the importance of early educators and the key role they play in our lives. It is a way to show appreciation and to boost morale for an underpaid workforce.

In fact, 97% of survey respondents said that WAGE$ makes them feel more appreciated and recognized for their work.  The feedback of participants always highlights this message.

One teacher shared, “WAGE$ has shown the value of giving incentives to teachers.  Teachers need to feel appreciated and rewarded.  All teachers deserve a chance to feel special and loved; that is how WAGE$ makes me feel.”

We all need to take the time to show our appreciation to this workforce. They deserve it. Happy Early Educator’s Day!

For more information, view the Child Care WAGE$® Program: NC Statewide Report (FY19).

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Child Care Services Association works to ensure affordable, accessible, high-quality child care for all young children and their families by supporting our future leaders—young children—and those that educate them. And we’re always looking for fresh ideas and new ways to do just that. Each semester, CCSA hires interns from surrounding colleges and universities to help drive our goals, better understand our communities and support future leadership. This spring and summer, we had three incredible future leaders here at CCSA.  

We are pleased to share what our interns said about working with CCSA:

Katie Thayer

Katie Thayer interned spring 2019 as a graduating senior from UNC-Chapel Hill working in our Family Support department. After graduating in May with her bachelor’s in human development and family studies, she was hired full-time as the family engagement counselor for Durham PreK and now works alongside the Durham County Government initiative to ensure high-quality pre-K for all Durham County 4-year-olds.

Interning at CCSA has been an incredible education and work experience for me…Through my internship, I worked on many different projects throughout the organization. I was able to develop relationships with people from each department and other Durham-based organizations, and I learned so much about pre-K, early childhood and nonprofit organizations. Everyone at CCSA has treated me like one of their own since my first day, and they’re always willing to help when I need it.

I spent most of my time helping the Durham PreK Senior Manager, Alex Livas-Dlott, with Durham PreK applications, screening children for pre-K, planning teacher events and surveying teachers on family engagement practices in the classroom. Now, I have added community outreach for family applications and social media to my list of daily activities as the family engagement counselor.

Being an intern at CCSA was a wonderful experience, and I am so glad I have the opportunity to stay.

Colleen Burns

Colleen Burns, a rising junior from UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in anthropology and biology, spent her summer interning in CCSA’s Communications department and spearheading the Anchors Away! for CCSA Awareness campaign on our social media and blog.

Almost every student’s concern when starting an internship is, “How much of this will be gaining experience versus me just being someone’s assistant?” Working at CCSA has truly been nothing but an enriching experience.

This summer, I had the opportunity to create and launch a social media campaign to spread awareness about CCSA and its many different programs. This was a big undertaking as CCSA operates so many programs, projects and initiatives. At first, I wasn’t really sure how to cover this extensive nonprofit adequately, and when I originally came up with the idea for Anchors Away! for CCSA Awareness, even I was skeptical if the amount of workload needed to run this campaign was possible. However, I received a ton of support from the Communications Manager, Jennifer Gioia, and when we presented the campaign to Marsha Basloe, the president, she believed in us.

As soon as the campaign kicked off, it was at full speed. A large process of the campaign was ensuring the other programs were on board and willing to work with us as we gathered information for daily content, including interviews and videos. Overall, we had a huge amount of support for this campaign as the staff and community were excited to not only see their own program featured but also learn things about the other programs CCSA operates.

This has been an insightful and rewarding experience for me, not just for the communication and social media skills I earned, but also for learning about the issues that affect our community. Through the campaign, I was able to read and listen to the many testimonials given about CCSA’s efforts to strengthen quality child care for children, families and teachers. So many people appreciate the various resources CCSA provides. Even if only for the summer, I am grateful to be a part of something that is making a difference in the community.

Sarah Hanson

Our third intern to highlight is Sarah Hanson, a Master of Public Administration student at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has been interning at CCSA since May in two departments, both in the Administration and the Systems, Research and Development departments.

In Systems, Research and Development, my main task is following up on workforce surveys that were sent out in April. Many of the surveys were missing crucial information and needed clarification in order to properly assess and analyze the data.

In Administration, I had the opportunity to observe a Board Orientation. It helped me better understand the non-profit process. I am updating board committee descriptions and the Board of Directors Manual. I’m also creating an e-manual for Administration where the documents are all located in one e-manual making them easily accessible from anywhere.

Throughout the summer, I have learned about the importance of research and accurate data collection in policy and program development and implementation. It is necessary to improve and expand the services the organization provides. I have also learned more about how policy and funding impact non-profits and the services they provide. Oftentimes, the importance of early childhood education is overlooked even though it plays a critical role in child development. CCSA is working to change that.

Interns and volunteers contribute a great deal to CCSA’s work. If you are interested in interning or volunteering at CCSA, contact communications@childcareservices.org.

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 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.

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