• 43°

Poll: NC voters want twice the funding for pre-K

North Carolina voters want the state to double its investment in early childhood development, according to a recent poll.

A bipartisan poll conducted by a team of Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research found that voters of all political persuasions favor greater investments in young children’s healthy development beginning at birth to ensure their success in school and life, according to the N.C. Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF), which commissioned the study.

State voters recognize that early investments have immediate and long-term benefits that include supporting children’s cognitive and social emotional development and growing a future skilled workforce. Voters said early learning investments are very important to help children achieve their third-grade reading goals (80 percent); help children develop curiosity and a love of learning (80 percent); and help North Carolina have a larger pool of highly skilled workers in the long-term (76 percent).

“North Carolinians are calling on policymakers to actualize their vision for young children. Voters want bold action,” said Tracy Zimmerman, NCECF executive director. “They understand that children’s healthy development requires a comprehensive set of resources available to all families, beginning with our babies and continuing through the birth-through-eight years. They overwhelmingly agree that the state is falling short — and they want the state to do more.”

Local officials are optimistic the findings signal the start of a changing funding climate whereby more pre-K children benefit from improved services.

Stanly County has been involved with Smart Start and Partnership for Children since the state created the programs in 1993. Over the 25-year span, more than $42 million has been invested in the programs locally.

Stanly County Partnership for Children has an annual budget of $3 million, with $1.7 million earmarked for the N.C. pre-K budget and $1.2 designated for Smart Start. The balance goes toward other expenses.

“We’ve come a long way over the past 25 years,” said Tammy Albertson, executive director of Stanly’s Partnership for Children. “We’ve made a lot of progress with educating folks about early childhood brain development and the importance of quality child care.”

There are only 2,000 days between the time a baby is born and when he or she will begin kindergarten. During that time brain architecture is forming, creating either a strong or weak foundation for all future learning. Child development is a dynamic, interactive process that is not predetermined. It occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments, according to the Partnership for Children.

“Brains are built not born,” said Harvard University neuroscientist Jack Shonkoff.

Unfortunately, the majority of the county’s children is not among those benefitting from the Partnership programs. For example, nearly 64 percent of children at the age of 5 and below, which accounts for about 6 percent of Stanly’s population, do not participate in regulated child care.

About 36 percent of those children attend regulated child care. However, 85 percent of those participate in child-care facilities rate at 4-5 stars.

Stanly County is home to 33 licensed child care facilities, 26 are child care centers and seven are child care homes. Twenty-two of the centers carry a 4 or 5 star rating. Two of the homes are 4-5 start rated.

Partnership services are not limited to Smart Start and child care, the literacy component is considered critical to a child’s development.

Between 2014 and 2017, nearly 800 children in Stanly County participated in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, with another 700 set to join during 2018.

Support for early childhood investments has grown significantly since 2014.

“These findings are a testament to the strong programs we have and the recognition that far too few children have access to their benefits,” Zimmerman said. “The findings are particularly timely given the most recent N.C. end-of-third-grade reading assessment results, which show scores hardly shifting from last year.

“What can we do differently? Follow the research and invest in a comprehensive set of strategies beginning at birth,” she added.

Highlights to the findings include:

• 80 percent of North Carolina voters support increasing annual state general funding for early child development programs to $400 million — an annual increase in state general funding from 1 to 2 percent;

• 80 percent of North Carolina voters say early education should be a higher priority than reducing business taxes in the state;

• Voters throughout the state say there is a lack of affordable and quality early education programs; and

• 91 percent of North Carolina voters support increasing wages for early childhood educators in order to reduce turnover, make sure they have a high level of preparation, training and skills and strong knowledge of early childhood development in order to improve the care and education children receive.

Contact Ritchie Starnes at 704-754-5076 or ritchie.starnes@stanlynewspress.com.