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Child care workers in NC rally for more funding as federal grants run out


Child care workers and their advocates from across North Carolina held a rally and march outside the General Assembly in Raleigh on Thursday, calling on lawmakers to invest more in early childhood education.

The rally came as many daycares and pre-K programs have begun preparing for the end of a program funded by federal dollars that helped sustain many child care providers during the pandemic.

The program offered "Child Care Stabilization Grants" to early care and education programs — essentially, grants that could be used to increase staff pay and benefits, and help cover things like rent, facility improvements, and health and safety trainings.

Nearly 4,400 child care programs in North Carolina received grants totaling $276.8 million, according to a survey by the North Carolina Child Care Resource and Referral Council. The vast majority — 89% — used the money to increase staff pay, the survey found.

But advocates worry those pay increases will be reversed when the program ends in December 2023, and teachers will leave to find less demanding work for higher pay elsewhere.

"That's the biggest, number one concern, is that the teachers will leave, which leaves all of us working parents who have children in child care in a lurch," said Jenna Nelson, executive director of the North Carolina Early Education Coalition.

"If you tell someone, 'We're raising your salary. Instead of making $11 an hour, you're making $15 an hour,' and then you say, 'Oh sorry, now we have to go back to $11 an hour,' those teachers are going to leave," Nelson said.

More than eight in 10 providers said they worried they would have to cut wages when the federal grants end, according to the North Carolina Child Care Resource and Referral Council survey.

At Thursday's rally, advocates pressured state lawmakers to help early care and education programs maintain their current funding levels and retain and recruit more staff.

Nelson said her organization wants state lawmakers to double the $700 million currently allocated for early childhood education in the state budget, and increase the reimbursement rates for Child Care Subsidy Assistance and NC Pre-K.

Thursday's rally was organized by Child Care for NC in partnership with several center-based and family child care home providers, families and organizations.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal