Nearly 30% of Child Care Providers in North Carolina Expected to Close Soon

At their gathering on April 2, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services was briefed on the current state of child care.

One of the primary challenges faced by child care facilities across North Carolina is the insufficient funding to sustain competitive wages for early childhood educators. This financial support is crucial to maintaining operations beyond the expiration of pandemic-related stabilization funds in June 2024.

‘Embrace the Buffalo Mentality’

During the meeting, Sandy Weathersbee, the proprietor of Providence Preparatory School in Charlotte and a board member of organizations like the North Carolina Partnership for Children and the Child Care Services Association, expressed his concerns to the committee.

Staffing remains a major issue for early childhood programs as they compete with the public school system for educators who receive state-funded benefits despite lower salaries in child care settings.

Weathersbee emphasized the pressing need for support before the anticipated funding cliff in June 2024, citing a recent child care provider survey conducted by the North Carolina Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Council to strengthen his case.

Key findings from the survey regarding challenges expected at the funding cliff include:

  • Approximately 29% of programs anticipate closure.
  • About 41% of centers project closure or reduced capacity due to combined classrooms.
  • 54% of programs plan cost-cutting measures that may impact program quality, including child nutrition.
  • 88% of programs foresee increased parental fees exceeding $1,000 annually.
  • The most common request for sustainability support was increased funding for staff salaries (38%).

Weathersbee urged the committee members to adopt a proactive approach and embrace the resilience of buffaloes in facing challenges ahead.

‘Recognizing Excellence in Child Care’

Ariel Ford, the director of the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) at the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), updated the committee on efforts to enhance the quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) in response to the funding challenges ahead.

In 2023, the General Assembly mandated the North Carolina Child Care Commission to propose updates to the QRIS, which assigns star ratings to child care programs based on predetermined quality criteria.

Being at the forefront in implementing a quality star-rating system since 1999, North Carolina aims to diversify pathways to quality care under the commission’s recent recommendation.

Three pathways are proposed:

  1. Enhancing the current consultant-based evaluation system for star ratings.
  2. Introducing a new pathway for specialized programs catering to children with unique needs.
  3. Implementing a streamlined recognition process for federally accredited programs to alleviate administrative burdens.

Despite these advancements, challenges persist due to the funding cliff approaching in June 2024, as highlighted by the CCR&R Council’s survey of child care providers across the state.

Testimonials from rural area respondents underscored the urgency of addressing subsidy rate floors and sustaining critical programs amid financial uncertainties.

Ford emphasized the ongoing underfunding of NC Pre-K, stressing the importance of supporting private providers in ensuring equitable access to quality early childhood education statewide.

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