Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper has recommended the State of North Carolina invest $745 million in quality child care and early childhood education programs to help businesses recruit and retain talent and develop a thriving economy across the state.

“North Carolina is the best state in the country to do business because of our skilled and talented workforce,” Cooper said. “Quality child care with early childhood education is essential to making sure children thrive, parents can work and employers can hire those parents for their workforce.”

Lack of access to child care is a significant economic barrier for workers, businesses, and communities nationwide. A 2023 report on the impact of lack of infant-toddler child care found that child care challenges cost employers $23 billion annually in lost productivity, which in turn costs communities $21 billion annually in federal, state, and local tax revenue that supports critical infrastructure and public services.

Child care access presents a significant workforce and economic development challenge in North Carolina. A recent statewide survey showed that nearly a third of North Carolina child care centers are at risk of closing their doors when Child Care Stabilization Grants made possible by federal funding end later this month. Without additional investment, survey results show that North Carolina’s child care centers will lose quality teachers, have difficulty hiring, and will have to raise fees on parents.

Cooper’s recommended budget for FY 2024-2025 addresses these challenges with a $745 million investment to strengthen access to child care and early education for working families. The governor’s budget provides child care stabilization grants to ensure child care centers stay open and can continue serving children, prioritizes funding to help parents afford child care, helps qualified educators afford to keep teaching, and makes child care more available, especially in rural areas, all of which can help employers recruit and retain the skilled, talented workforce they need.

Gov. Cooper’s budget proposal includes:

♦ $200 million for Child Care Stabilization Grants to keep child care centers open when federal funding ends this summer. These grants support better compensation for the early educator workforce to keep good teachers in our early childhood classrooms.

♦ $128.5 million for the Child Care Subsidy Program to increase rates that will benefit child care providers and families in rural and lower-wealth communities and $10 million for Smart Start Investments will help recruit and retain early childhood educators by providing competitive wages, plus help for early childhood teachers to afford child care for their own children;

♦ $197 million for the NC Pre-K Program to increase rates to cover the full cost for NC Pre-K students, which is needed to shore up the program;

♦ $24.4 million for summer care and learning programs for students after they complete NC Pre-K and before they enter kindergarten; and

♦ A refundable child and dependent care tax credit worth up to $600 for the average family of four that will further reduce the burden of child care costs for working families.