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Ashe County Leaders Build Model to Address Ever-Growing Child Care Needs

Source: EdNC 

Since April, North Carolina officials have warned of a crisis facing the child care industry. As COVID-19-era federal programs that helped funnel millions into child care programs dried up, long-standing issues have continued to escalate. 

According to a national survey, North Carolina’s child care system mirrors what’s happening across the nation, as low worker pay, staff shortages and high tuition impact access to quality child care for millions.

Amid an ever-growing crisis, one community is hoping to address low pay, lack of affordability, and support for staff in an effort to expand child care access.

In Ashe County, child care, business, and education leaders have created a model to expand child care access in their community and surrounding rural areas.

According to EdNC, Ashe County leaders are asking legislators for funding to establish the Ashe County REALM Center, which would offer child care for 42 families. The funding request would get the center up and running for the first five years; covering the costs of materials and staffing.

The center would serve children six weeks to 4 years old and operate on a sliding tuition scale based on families’ income, EdNC reports. In addition, the center would facilitate training for future early childhood educators. 

“I’m really looking for a multi-tiered system of support where we have our General Assembly support, we have community donations, we have business support, and then a tiered model of funding from those who are have their children in that site,” Eisa Cox, superintendent of Ashe County Schools, told EdNC. “Really I think everybody needs to have a stake in it.”

The idea for the center came from a local survey asking about families’ care and work needs.

According to EdNC, in a 2022 survey conducted by the Partnership of Ashe, more than half of the 125 respondents said they had lost work due to a lack of child care, and 80% said a lack of child care had hurt their livelihood. 

More than 60% said they would seek work if quality child care options were available, according to data from the survey.

“We need more workers, but they’re not coming,” Kitty Honeycutt, president of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce, told EdNC. “So we need to get some of our existing workers back into the workforce, and those are either people that are staying home with children, or even retirees and grandparents who can’t go back to work because they’re having to be home with grandchildren.”

A survey commissioned by the NC Chamber Foundation from New Bridge Strategy in April found that a majority of North Carolinians want more investments towards child care access in the state. 

Nine in 10 voters say taking action to ensure that more working families have access to affordable, quality child care should be an important priority this year.

“We’ve got 87% saying, y’all need to get on this,” stated Lori Weigel of New Bridge Strategy during a presentation of the results. “People are really seeing this as an urgent problem. And I think even more significantly, it’s not just the urgency of it, but that people are willing to back it with state funding.”Read more at EdNC.

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