In North Carolina, we stand on the shoulders of great women and men who recognized that our state’s future was deeply connected to our youngest children. As a result, more of our children are in high-quality child care, our pre-kindergarten program is among the best in the country and we have the highest rate of developmental screenings in the nation.
These are accomplishments to be proud of . . . and to build upon. The majority of our children are not meeting a critical milestone that predicts future academic and career success—reading proficiently by the end of third grade.
Fortunately, North Carolinians continue to step up. They continue to recognize that the success of our communities, of our businesses and our state is inextricably linked to ensuring that each has a strong foundation for learning. We saw this proudly on display at the kidonomics Forum, which took place in Raleigh, Feb. 5-6. I attended the Forum with members of my organization, the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF). With support from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, NCECF hosted a Day 1 Forum panel entitled “Enhancing the Bottom Line: Family-Friendly Business Policies That Work.”
The kidoNomiCs Forum paid tribute to North Carolina’s proud early childhood legacy, called out the challenges that still must be addressed and provided a platform to demonstrate our shared commitment to young children. Some quotes that resonated with me from two-day Forum include:
“We have a strong Smart Start and Head Start but that covers less than half of our youngsters. . . . We have some choices for parents but most of the choices require parents to ante up out of their own pocket. And that’s a very significant hardship for many of them . . . This is an issue that we’ve got to deal with if we want to keep our youngsters competitive not only in this country but internationally,” Mark Richardson, chair of the Rockingham County Commissioners and chair of the Steering Committee on Public Education for the NC Association of County Commissioners.
“Brain research is telling us early childhood is extremely valuable. Because of Governor Hunt’s foresight we have the best early childhood system in the country,” said Sen. Chad Barefoot.
“When we get this right, we have successful children, we have a workforce. What’s the cost if we don’t get this right? Either way we are going to pay,” said Brenda Howerton, president of the NC Association of County Commissioners.
“Not only is [early childhood education] the right thing to do . . . it’s our future workforce,” said Jim Hansen, regional president of PNC Bank.
NCECF sees this incredible commitment to our children and our state every day in the people we are so privileged to work with. The kidoNomiCs Forum provided an opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of these inspiring activities.
- Together, our state’s early learning and education, public agency, policy, philanthropic and business leaders have agreed upon shared, whole-child measures of success that put children on a pathway to grade-level reading. At kidoNomiCs, attendees were asked to help to determine which strategies NC should take on to make progress on these measures. (Share your input through this survey.)
- The business community is not only calling for greater investments in young children, they are taking action. Research the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation released at the Forum shows that many businesses are engaged in and/or are planning to expand family-friendly practices that improve outcomes for children and for business. With founding sponsorship from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, NCECF launched Family Forward NC at the Forum, a business-led initiative to expand access to family-friendly workplaces.
- And communities are looking at how they support investments in young children. Since NCECF launched its Local Financing Toolkit, more than 15,000 people have accessed it online and six counties have participated in day-long workshops to learn more. On Day 2 of the Forum, NCECF led a workshop that featured a taste of this training, which provides information on the different local revenue streams available to local communities to finance early education, tools to assess communities’ readiness levels and insights on the strategies other communities have used to secure revenue streams available under existing law. At least four communities in N.C. are actively pursuing local financing strategies to increase access to early learning programs.
Tracy Zimmerman is the executive director of the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation.
View a recent webinar featuring Read Charlotte Executive Director Munro Richardson on “Choosing the Most Promising Early Literacy Interventions,” hosted by the NC Early Childhood Foundation.