North Carolina completed and released its Economic Impact of the Child Care Industry in June 2004. The report was completed by the Insight Center in partnership with the North Carolina Partnership for Children and a state advisory board that included business, early childhood organizations, statewide nonprofit organizations and state agencies. At that time, many evaluations of Smart Start, North Carolina’s early childhood system had been completed. While these evaluations showed improved health, school readiness and educational outcomes for children, no data had been collected on the impact of ECE on the economy. The Economic Impact Report provided a set of state and county level data that created new opportunities to engage state and local businesses, government officials and economic developers. It also reframed the ECE message to include the economic impact message that had been recognized and included in Smart Start’s authorizing language but not widely promoted.
The North Carolina Smart Start program is administered by a statewide nonprofit organization, the North Carolina Partnership for Children. Services are provided to all children birth through 5 in all 100 counties through 78 local Smart Start Partnerships. The Smart Start Partnerships are independent nonprofit organizations with boards of directors drawn from local leadership in the community. Each partnership provides programs and services designed to meet the needs of each individual community.
Using Economic Messages
North Carolina is using a two-prong approach to disseminate the economic impact message. The first is directed at educating state policy makers, economic and workforce development professionals, business leaders, and other like minded nonprofit and advocacy organizations working at the statewide level promoting the impact of the ECE sector. The second is to work with the local Smart Start Partnership to integrate the economic message into their local work agenda and create opportunities to broaden local support and leverage additional resources for ECE. A significant effort is made to tailor the message to these various audiences and provide them with examples and strategies of how ECE investments can be included in their current areas of work.
Disseminating the data on the economic impact broadly through narrowly targeted messages that resonate with the specific audiences has been a successful strategy in North Carolina. With 100 counties and several different sets of regional government and economic development organizations, the North Carolina Partnership for Children sought opportunities to speak at statewide and regional meetings of non-traditional partners as a starting point for future engagement. Presentations were made at large associations and statewide meetings such as the Director’s meeting of the Regional Councils of Government, a quarterly meeting of all the State and Local Workforce Boards, state and regional economic development boards, and even to public administration masters students, many of whom will assume leadership positions in North Carolina government. In each case the individual economic message was crafted to highlight how each specific audience - workforce, government, economic development colleagues could leverage new resources to invest in young children. Connections to the workforce development system have drawn particular attention because of the dramatic changes in the state’s economy. With the loss of traditional manufacturing and the significant needs for workforce supports, the connection between ECE, getting people to work, and keeping good employees has received significantly more attention.
The North Carolina state economic impact report includes county level data sheets that have been valuable tools in creating local understanding of the return on ECE investments. Communication kits and presentation templates were designed for the local Smart Start partnerships, after the initial report release, to help share the message with local organizations, agencies and officials. In the past two years, the North Carolina Partnership for Children has hosted a number of training opportunities for local Smart Start partnerships to become more comfortable with using the economic impact message and understanding how to use the data to add ECE to community economic development discussion. A set of regional workshops entitled Economic Development 101 provided the basics on local economic development planning and areas of development that have a link to ECE investments. A survey of local partnership directors identified barriers and challenges to using the economic message. These were addressed at a training session entitled “Honing Your Economic Development Message”. In addition, National Smart Start Conference hosted several local sessions to help local partners better understand how economic development works in their community and ways in which ECE can fit into existing community development efforts.
ECE economic data was added to the Department of Commerce economic data base and is now part of each county’s profile. Child care centers information by county was added to the Workforce Commission’s rapid response materials that are sent to businesses who announce layoff and closings. Articles were published in state business journals, Chamber newsletters, the County Commissioners statewide newsletter, and in Popular Government which is read by local government officials across the state.
Smart Start partnership staff is adding ECE into conversations on community, economic, workforce and business development. ECE advocates are being included in: county planning teams; Department of Commerce economic development initiatives; workforce boards; economic development commissions, and county leadership programs. At the state level, the North Carolina Partnership for Children serves on the education and economic development committees of the State Chamber and is an active member of the North Carolina Alliance for Workforce Competitiveness and the North Carolina Asset Policy Task Force, both of whom have legislative agendas that include ECE priorities.
Local Smart Start Partnerships have used the economic impact message to make presentations to civic groups and organizations, host business and legislative events, write articles, and engage in economic and community development efforts. Results include: the participation of ECE professionals in local planning initiatives and economic development agendas; additional resources allocated from county governments; endorsement by local officials of a community created ECE investment action plan, and the opening of new high quality child care centers. Local partnerships continue to look for way to engage local business and community leaders in meeting ECE needs.
In 2005, the High Point City Council authorized a High Point Workforce Preparedness Study. Throughout 2006, a group of community leaders used the data collected to develop a strategic plan to strengthen the community's workforce capacity. The Director of the High Point United Way was appointed to the committee by the Mayor to represent the ECE community and ensure its inclusion in the final plan. This relationship with the City and County helped create new high quality child care facilities in two vacant community facilities. Working with the city manager, the housing authority, and the school district, the United Way helped convert these buildings into quality care for the community’s children. Similar relationship building efforts in Anson County, North Carolina resulted in the county manager including ECE in the county budget and the school superintendent asking about a partnership to offer high quality child care as an incentive for teacher recruitment.
Boosting the Economic Power of Early Care and Education: Key Highlights
In June 2004, a Legislative Breakfast was held to launch the release of the economic impact report. Every member of the general assembly received a copy of the report along with data from the counties in their district. In the summer of 2006, the North Carolina Partnership for Children released an update of the 2004 Economic Impact report. The update was an abbreviated version of the initial report but include updated state and county level data. Another data update was just completed in May 2008.
In 2006 and 2007 the North Carolina Partnership for Children convened an ad hoc policy group of business, economic development, nonprofit and child care advocacy leaders to look at critical statewide early education needs and possible opportunities to link to economic development policy or programs at the state level.
The Linking Child Care and Economic Development Initiative was launched in 2006 with funding from the Z Smith Reynolds Foundation to pilot efforts in two counties to integrate child care into local economic development planning using a community development approach. Counties created, through a community planning process, an ECE investment plan endorsed by local leadership and economic development groups and moved to secure resources to implement the action steps. The pilots are working through the summer of 2008.
In October 2007, the Committee for Economic Development hosted a business luncheon in Charlotte to talk about the economic impact of child care and the importance of investing in ECE. The meeting was well attended and included state and national speakers as well as staff from the W.C. Kellogg Foundation. Participants left with 10 bullet points on specific ways they could invest in early education.
State and Legislative Actions
The North Carolina Partnership for Children was created in 1993 under Governor Hunt to oversee the Smart Start Initiative. Smart Start was a planning and funding initiative created to serve all children birth to five and ensure they arrive at school healthy and ready for success. An initial demonstration of the program served 18 counties through 12 local Smart Start Partnership. Today Smart Start serves all 100 countries though 78 local partnerships. In 2001, the National Smart Start Technical Assistance Center was established to provide assistance to states and localities working to create successful ECE initiatives based on the successes, experiences and lessons learned through the Smart Start Initiative.
The North Carolina More at Four pre-k program was established in 2001-2002 as an initiative of Governor Mike Easley. Funding to the program has increased each year. More at Four is one of only two pre-k programs nationwide that meets all ten of the quality benchmark specified by the National Institute for Early Education Research The North Carolina Office of School Readiness was established in 2005 to manage the More at Four program and support high-quality early education and preschool programs throughout North Carolina. In 2007 the legislature provided funding to expand More at Four to serve an additional 10,000 children. In addition, an expansion of funds was allocated for the subsidy system through the Division of Child Development. Smart Start received $1.25 million more in funding as well.
The 2008 Governor’s budget includes $39.8 million to increase the number of More at Four early childhood education program slots to bring enrollment to 35,000. The legislature is currently in session.
Child Care Services Association, headquartered in North Carolina, advocates for child care services at the local, state and national level to ensure affordable, accessible, high quality child care for all families. Their website has information and research for families, child care businesses, and providers.
Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute is a nationally recognized center for studying young children and their families. The institute includes the researchers for the Abecedarian Project, the results of which are often cited as part of the economic impact and return on investment discussion related to the importance of quality early childcare.
North Carolina Office of School Readiness strives to prepare children for school success by supporting high-quality early education and preschool programs throughout North Carolina including the states 4-year old preschool program.