Published: Jan 29, 2012 02:00 AM
Modified: Jan 28, 2012 07:57 PM
As we celebrate the new year, we have some good news. Thanks to many who worked hard on the state's application for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge fund, North Carolina was awarded almost $70 million over four years to strengthen and improve its early care and education system. Our state won this grant because we have led the way in early childhood initiatives for the last 20 years.
Our young children need strong families, strong communities and strong early childhood education. I have watched North Carolina's system go from one of the worst in the nation to the best. Our application received the highest rating of all the states. This transformation has resulted from four key elements..Collaboration and Cooperation:
One of the unique strengths of North Carolina's early care and education system is that it is built on collaboration and cooperation between departments within state government and between government and the nonprofit sector.Quality.
North Carolina has and must continue to invest heavily in those supports and regulations that produce high-quality early childhood programs. It is only when young children are in high-quality early education programs that we see significant return on our investment. This means new funding to invest in good classrooms, effective teachers, home visiting programs and results-based assistance. Teachers will have new guidelines to help them understand what children should know and be able to do. These funds will allow us to invest in the education and support of our teachers through training and mentoring.Leadership. North Carolina has benefited from leadership at all levels. Governors Hunt, Easley and Perdue have made funding for early childhood education a priority. State legislative and administrative leaders have helped guide good policy and funding decisions. Locally, communities have had strong leadership in Smart Start offices and boards. And North Carolina has had great nonprofit and university leadership in early childhood education.All children.
North Carolina has tried through Smart Start, Health Choice, the universal child-care rating structure and its child care resource and referral system to ensure all young children whose parents want it have access to high quality early care and education. North Carolina has focused on children from birth to five, unlike many other states who wait until the last year before school. For so many children that is way too late. We have focused on state-wideness, recognizing that some areas of our state are not doing as well as others in meeting the needs of young children. That is what makes this grant to exciting, as North Carolina will invest in one of our poorest regions of the state to try to improve services and outcomes, especially for babies and toddlers. Finally, Race to the Top dollars will allow us to improve license levels with better standards.
We still have a long way to go. We have about 50,000 children on our state's waiting list for child-care assistance. We have more than 10,000 on our state's waiting list for Pre-K. North Carolina must continue to lead, collaborate and invest to ensure all our young children have access to high-quality early care and education and are ready to compete in a global economy.
Dan Hudgins is a clinical assistant professor at the UNC-CH School of Social Work and a former director of the Durham County Department of Social Services.