Blog

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

If any issue warrants public attention, public discussion and rethinking as to the best way to ensure families with young children have access to child care and pre-kindergarten, it is our nation’s current approach to the safety and healthy development of young children. It’s not a system as much as a patchwork quilt stitched together over decades. The federal government allocates funds to states through individual programs or funding streams (i.e., block grants), each with different rules, administered by different state agencies, and too often resulting in siloed approaches with little to no coordination or collaboration among state agencies, departments, divisions or communities.

In December 2019, Congress enacted the FY2020 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations measure, which included the following funding levels for early care and education programs:

Source: FY2020 non-defense consolidated appropriations bill (HR 1865, PL116-94) enacted on December 20, 2019.

In addition to the funding above, in FY2019, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture allocated $3.7 billion to states to support healthy meals and snacks for low-income children in child care centers and family child care homes [1] and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services allocated the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states, of which states chose to use $3.8 billion for child care and $2.6 billion for state pre-K. [2] The number of children served by TANF funds for child care or pre-K is unknown because the federal government only requires aggregate spending to be reported, not how many children are served, the setting children are in (homes or centers, licensed or unlicensed) or the average price paid per child. In all, that’s more than $35 billion through various federal funds for early care and education programs.

Child care is the largest early childhood program with $12.5 billion in funding and yet only about 17 percent of eligible children (based on state standards) receive a subsidy. [3] Many states have a waiting list for assistance, including North Carolina with a waiting list of more than 40,000 children. Families have a difficult time finding care, affording care, and then many parents express concern about the quality of care. Numerous national reports have been released about child care deserts, communities where the need for child care for parents of children under age 6 pales in comparison to the licensed supply of child care. [4] The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services released a report in October 2019 that found the supply of home-based care has declined by more than 97,000 providers since 2005. [5]

Why? Child care is a business. Child care centers tend to operate in areas where the population is dense enough with sufficient numbers of private-pay families who can afford weekly parent fees. The operating budget for child care centers largely comprises parent fees and therefore staff is hired at the lowest wages possible to hold costs down. In a good economy with low unemployment, like we have today, turnover is high because staff often can find better-paying jobs in fast food, retail sales or other jobs that require less training or education. Turnover also costs businesses because of the marketing, interviewing, hiring and training required for new staff.

For home-based providers, the hours are long and the pay is low. According to a 2019 economic impact report by the Committee for Economic Development, [6] the average annual income of home-based providers is approximately $15,000 per year, [7] 18% higher than in North Carolina, where the average income of home-based providers is $12,300. [8] The decline in home-based providers (who often serve infants and toddlers) is a hardship for parents, particularly those in rural communities where the economics of operating a center don’t work. Home-based care is often less expensive and providers may be more willing to stay open during nontraditional hours for those parents who work shift work or have long commutes to their job. Yet, again, wages drive interest in opening a home-based program (or closing one) because other jobs in the community may pay more with fewer hours and less stress.

The reality is that mothers are working today. Nationally, approximately 72 percent of mothers with children under age 6 are working outside of the home, [9] 65.4 percent of mothers with children age 2 are working [10] and, 57.8 percent of mothers with children under age 1 are working. [11] Many of these mothers need child care, but federal subsidies reach only one out of every six eligible children. Therefore, most families are forced to afford whatever they can find. However, in too many communities, the supply is not available, let alone affordable.

There is no doubt that if our nation’s early care and education system were designed today, it would look much different. If we can’t think out of the box about a new bold system to better meet the needs of families with young children, we will be stuck with incremental, minor band-aids that ignore the real problem: the system is under-financed and poorly designed. Parents can’t afford quality child care, but we know from the research that high-quality child care really matters to the healthy development of children, particularly in the earliest years as a child’s brain is developing the fastest, setting the architecture for all future social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills. [12]

Two decades ago, child care was a work support. Today, we know that it is a two-generation strategy. High-quality child care helps parents work and helps support the healthy development of children. In fact, parents who can’t access child care reduce their hours or drop out of the workforce. About 94 percent of those who involuntarily work part-time are mothers who cite child care problems as their reason for working part-time. [13]

In 2018, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released “Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education,” which reviewed the multiple funding streams for early care and education and made a number of recommendations. The NAS Committee, made up of early childhood experts and finance experts, recommended investing in early care and education at a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) aligned with the average of other member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The report recommended increasing funds in four phases, from at least $5 billion in phase one to $53 billion in phase four. [14]

However, it is not just about the money. It is also about program design and meeting the needs of families in urban and rural areas and in an array of settings that best meet the needs of the family and each individual child with an early education workforce that is trained and paid appropriately for the important work they do. 

Rethinking is always a bit more challenging than staying in the box with patchwork fixes. The current system isn’t working for low-income children whose families need a subsidy or the private market where working parents need access to affordable high-quality child care and early education programs. It is time for a discussion about a redesign.


[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Child and Adult Care Food Program, January 2020. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/ccsummar-1.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance, TANF expenditures FY2018. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource/tanf-financial-data-fy-2018

[3] U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Child Care: Access to Subsidies and Strategies to Manage Demand Vary Across States, 2016. https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/681652.pdf

[4] Center for American Progress, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2018/12/06/461643/americas-child-care-deserts-2018/; Child Care Aware of America, https://www.childcareaware.org/our-issues/research/mappingthegap/.

[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, 2019. https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/public/addressing_decreasing_fcc_providers_revised_final.pdf

[6] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] U.S. Census Bureau, Table S2301, Employment Status, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates.

[10] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table 6. Employment status of mothers with own children under age 3 years old by single year of age of youngest child and marital status, 2017-2018 averages.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. Brain Architecture. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/

[13] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[14] National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education, 2018.  https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24984/transforming-the-financing-of-early-care-and-education

By Tanya Slehria, Communications Intern at CCSA

Shantel Zimmerman describes her favorite part of teaching as, “truthfully, the kids. It is so much fun. I tell [my husband] I get to go to work and play everyday teaching. Where else can an almost 50-year-old be silly and whimsical and get paid for it?”

Shantel has taught at Primrose School of Heritage Wake Forest in Wake Forest, North Carolina for nearly a decade. She first received her bachelor’s degree and returned to school to receive her master’s in elementary education. “I originally wanted to be a high school teacher. I changed my major in college because I didn’t think I had the patience to be with elementary or younger,” said Shantel. “Having my daughter showed me I did have the patience, so when she started school, I went back to younger kids. I like them, they’re more fun.” 

For Shantel, being a parent helps develop her teaching style for young children. She also credits her style to “the classes I took, interesting articles I come across [and] talking to other teachers. It’s really just trying to see what works for you and what works with the age group you’re with.” 

Her advice is to be flexible to others teaching in the field. “You can have something planned to do with your class and it may get tossed out the window in the first five minutes. It all depends on the mood of the kids. My key thing is to be flexible and go with the flow because you never know where it’s going to take you,” said Shantel. 

The most rewarding part of teaching for Shantel is “having fun with the kids and watching them grow.” It’s all about the kids for her. “Watching what my kids have learned in the nine months I have them amazes me and makes me want to do more every day,” she said. 

By Tanya Slehria, Communications Intern at CCSA

As a teaching professional, Chatiba Bullock truly values her education and credits her continuous path to being a lifelong learner. “In order for me to motivate my teachers and team members, it’s important for them to see me working,” said Chatiba.

Chatiba works as Education Manager for Durham Head Start/Early Head Start while also furthering her early childhood development degree. She first began as an assistant teacher, quickly moved up to lead teacher and went on further to serve in the leadership position of center director.

Chatiba is also a Child Care WAGE$® recipient. “I really like WAGE$ because it gives you an incentive to keep learning,” she said. “The WAGE$ program really was [integral] in motivating me as an educator to want more and better myself.”

“I received an associates in early childhood education from Durham Tech Community College in 2005 and I went on to North Carolina Central University where I received my bachelor’s in family and consumer sciences with a concentration in child development in 2008,” Chatiba said. She didn’t stop there. “I received my Master’s in education in 2014 from Ashford University and then received some post-graduate certifications from Walden University in teacher leadership and childhood administration.

It wasn’t always Chatiba’s plan to work in early childhood education. Out of high school, she began as a business major. “It wasn’t until in ‘99, I started working at the Early Learning Center through the YMCA, they had their own child care center and I took on a part-time job as a floater, and I loved early childhood education,” Chatiba said.

While there, Chatiba realized something. “Working with kids and going to school for business, it just didn’t mesh. I like working with kids and I need to learn more about children,” she said.

“[My favorite part of being an educator is] the correlation between children and families. I think it’s actually working with children and families to help them understand the importance of education and how they can foster that love at home with their kids,” said Chatiba.

Her teaching style is shaped by “letting [the children] be the teacher and I’m the facilitator. I like to build lessons when I’m in the classroom. I’m not in the classroom as much anymore, but when I’m helping teachers understand their teaching style, my teaching style basically is the child’s interests and helping teachers facilitate that in their classroom,” said Chatiba.

By Jennifer Gioia, Communications Manager at CCSA

For Latisha Edwards, teaching is “being a creator. Learning through play is the best part, because not only are the children using their imagination, but I’m using my imagination as well, and that’s just always fun.”

Latisha works as an assistant teacher at First Presbyterian Day School in Durham, North Carolina, while also attending classes at Vance-Granville Community College for her associate’s degree in early childhood education. “After that, I plan on attending UNC-Chapel Hill for my bachelor’s degree,” she said.

“Honestly, it was not [always my plan to work in early childhood education,]” Latisha said. “My mom owned a child care center my entire life and I was off doing retail. Once I had my son, I started working part-time with the center and I just kind of grew to love it, and that was almost nine years ago.”

Latisha started her education in 2014 but then had her last child, “so I stopped and got out of it. I was still working in the field, but I left [my education] alone. So, in the fall of ’19, I re-enrolled…Hopefully, I will finish in December, but I’ll walk with the May class.”

First Presbyterian has a looping program for infant-toddlers and twos. “Right now, I’m with the two-year-old [classroom], but in June, when we do our transition, I will be transitioning back to the infants, and we start all the way over until we get to two and then we do it all again,” Latisha said.

The most rewarding part of teaching for Latisha “is knowing that you are actually building a child’s self-esteem because teaching is not always a-b-c’s, 1-2-3’s. It’s about building confidence in children and having them just grow up and be great adults…I love what I do, honestly.”

By Tanya Slehria, Spring Communications Intern at CCSA

Tracy Pace’s favorite part of being an early childhood educator is “being there, being able to be an advocate for [children’s] success and being willing to listen and try to help parents reach out, find the resources [they need] and gain new skills.”

Tracy wears many hats in her role as a lead teacher at Nanna’s & Momma’s Child Care Center in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina. “And my title kind of switches from day-to-day,” Tracy said. “It depends. I’m a very flexible person, but the majority of my time is used either as teaching in a classroom or in the office as an executive assistant.” 

After high school, Tracy said, “I decided to get married instead of go to school…my husband and I were married for 5 years and our first child came along…We didn’t want them to do the same thing we’ve done. We wanted [them] to try to be smarter than that. So, we both had enrolled in school…Our second child came along and I just piddled here and there and did a class. So, it took me 26 years to get my associate’s degree and I’ve just done that this July [2019]” from Blue Ridge Community College.

Tracy’s educational journey may be filled with twists and turns, yet her commitment to education and early childhood education has remained consistent throughout her 30-plus years in the field. While working toward her degree, she was still supporting her family of four children as well. 

After graduating, Tracy enrolled in Brevard College. It was through her persistence and encouragement that they began offering a birth-to-kindergarten program and an education program for students to receive teaching licenses. She continued to pave her own path, and as she told Brevard, “I’d love to [enroll with] the T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship.” At the time, Brevard was not participating with CCSA’s T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program, but Tracy’s determination led them to offer the scholarship. “So, in 10 classes, I’ll have my Bachelor’s degree,” Tracy said.

Tracy’s involvement with T.E.A.C.H. began with her work at Nanna’s & Momma’s where she became a Child Care WAGE$® recipient. At the time, she was her mother’s full-time caregiver, a full-time student, a full-time employee and a full-time mother. She credits her ability to keep up with it all to the WAGE$ supplement.

“The [WAGE$] supplement has allowed me not to have [a second job] and to help me manage all these other different things, as first of all, a wife and mother, and second of all, someone who wants to give back to their community. Without [WAGE$], it wouldn’t have been possible,” said Tracy. 

Tracy is as dedicated a teacher as she is a student. Her goal has always been to teach. Teaching “fits my family’s needs,” said Tracy.

Before her time in the classroom, Tracy worked as the assistant director for the Brevard Davidson River Presbyterian Church and was involved with various organizations. Her position helped her form a network of connections that serve as a benefit to her current role as an educator. “I think community resources is my biggest strength—those connections outside of this job and those I made before I got into this current job,” said Tracy. “I know people to call by name at the Social Services office. I would say that’s one of the biggest things for teachers, in general, is being able to know and have a list of those resources and know people by name.” 

Tracy attributes her teaching style to her community. “I’ve grown a lot and become a lot more flexible as I understand and continue to try to edge out a living in the community that I’ve worked and raised my kids in and [one that] they would love to come back to,” she said. She also credits her passion for reading, “which has given me an understanding and [ability to find] solutions, or things I can try, and that not all kids are the same.”

“We know everything we need to know before we’re age 5. That’s the point and most people miss that. They think we’re not anything until we’re 5 and go to kindergarten, but every child learns all their coping skills, their ability to receive and give information before the age of 5,” said Tracy.

By Cass Wolfe, CSO at Child Care Services Association

This year marks the 100th year anniversary of women’s right to vote in the United States, with the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Women waged a nearly 100-year effort, marked by setbacks and conflict while demanding the right to vote. Yet today, there are still significant efforts in several states to restrict voting for some groups of people. As such, it is important that those of us who can vote actually do vote. It is a right, a responsibility and a way to participate in the governance of our communities, state and nation. Don’t give up your right to someone whose opinions and views are different or maybe even the opposite of yours!

According to the United States Elections Project, only 49.6% of eligible North Carolina voters actually voted in 2018. Yet the voices of voters who care about issues that impact diverse families are necessary to increase funding and political interest in early childhood. With the complex, multi-layered challenges of the early care and education system, it is increasingly clear that additional political will and government funding are critical to improving early care and education for every child, parent, teacher and director.

For the first time ever, the major candidates for U.S. president have policy stances on child care and early education. The candidates have varying positions, some supporting pre-kindergarten for all, while others are advocating for more comprehensive birth to 5 programming and parent fee relief. Look at each candidate’s website to learn about their priorities for children, families and more.

The point is, each of us has an opportunity to help shape the conversation around child care and to support the candidates we each feel speak to our concerns the most clearly. But you have to be registered to vote. Fortunately, you have two options!

  • While North Carolina’s primary is Tuesday, March 3, 2020 and only those registered by February 7th can vote in this primary, you can participate in early voting and register when you are at the polling place. Early voting is February 13 – February 29 and is very convenient, with a variety of dates, times and locations. Click on your county’s name to get the Durham, Orange and Wake early voting schedules. If you live in a different county, click here.
  • Registered voters can also vote by absentee ballot (requests for absentee ballots must be made by February 25).

Finally, if you think you are registered, click here to ensure you are still registered.

One last important bit of information for the primary is that contrary to earlier information, you will not need any identification to vote.   

In addition to the presidential primary, there is also a primary contest for the U.S. Senate seat from North Carolina. There are also state and local offices on the ballot, including the governor’s, the lieutenant governor’s, the auditor’s and the treasurer’s offices. At the local level, school board, county commissioners and state legislative seats have multiple people running for office. 

There are many choices that influence decisions about our neighborhoods, our children’s schools, our state and our country. One example of local decision-making is Durham PreK. Voters’ support for access to publicly supported preschool for all 4-year olds led elected leaders to invest in young children.  These leaders with bold goals for children were voted in by citizens who cared. Your vote matters.

So go vote, take a friend or two with you, and wear your “I voted” sticker proudly. Finally, be sure to encourage all of the early childhood teachers and staff you know to join you in making a statement for our children. We need to vote since the children we are passionate about cannot vote. We need to vote for the future! 

For more information about voting in North Carolina, click here.

By Marsha Basloe, President, Child Care Services Association

Families with jobs and secure housing access child care through our country’s Child Care Resource & Referral network, friends and family and the internet.  Without child care, families experiencing homelessness struggle to secure housing. And yet, for these families, accessing child care offers two important benefits—the chance to be able to participate in job training, education, and other programs essential to resolving their homelessness and the opportunity to have a safe setting for children to grow!

Research has established a strong connection between a young child’s early experiences and the development of his or her brain structure. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, the early years of life when more than 1 million new neural connections form every second, can provide a strong or weak foundation for all future learning, behavior and health.[1] We know that homelessness jeopardizes the health, early childhood development and educational well-being of infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children. It also creates unique barriers to participating in early care and education. With nearly 50% of children living in federally-funded homeless shelters under the age of five, this is a problem for families, communities, states and the country.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014, signed into law on November 19, 2014, reauthorized the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Program. The reauthorized law made significant advancements by defining health and safety requirements for child care providers, outlining family-friendly eligibility policies, and ensuring parents and the general public have transparent information about available child care choices.

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) published the Final Rule to implement the Child Care and Development Fund program (CCDF) in September 2016. The full regulations may be read here.

The Rule included many items designed to remove barriers and better support young children and families experiencing homelessness. (CCDF Final Rule: Subsidy Eligibility and Homeless Provisions) It included:

  • The McKinney-Vento Act’s education definition of homelessness to be used by child care (and Head Start and public education), 
  • A grace period or flexibility to obtain immunizations and other documents needed so that  children experiencing homelessness can be served more quickly,
  • Outreach to homeless families with children,
  • Training and technical assistance in identifying and serving homeless children and their families,
  • The coordination of services so that families with children can get the help that they need, and
  • Data reporting to know how many families (and children) experiencing homelessness are receiving child care assistance.

States submitted 2016-2018 CCDF Plans and excerpts from Section 3.2.2., Improving Access to High Quality Child Care for Homeless Families, within State Plans were shared here. The state plans for 2016-2018 indicated that while many states had policies in place to help families experiencing homelessness access child care assistance, the majority of states were not yet adequately addressing those families’ unique needs.

The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Plan serves as the application for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funds by providing a description of, and assurance about, state child care programs and related services available to eligible families. The Office of Child Care reviews the Plans for approval.

The CCDF Plan also presents an opportunity for states to demonstrate the activities and services they are providing to meet the needs of low-income children and families. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) makes Plans publicly available to many users including members of Congress, Congressional committees, State and local child care administrators, advocacy groups, researchers and the general public. For states looking for innovative ways to better meet the child care needs of families experiencing homelessness, the publication of the state plans serves as a clearinghouse of resources for states to replicate or customize to finetune their strategies to best support these families.

The 2019-2021 CCDF State Plans show that States have embraced the CCDF law and regulations with regard to serving families experiencing homelessness, making changes to policies and practice, including eligibility requirements, coordinating with partners, increasing access and providing professional development for those within the child care field to not only increase access to child care but also to ensure that families with children experiencing homelessness receive the support and services they need. These State Plans can be found here.

View other resources for early childhood homelessness here.


[1] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child, Brain Architecture.

By Jennifer Gioia, Communications Manager at Child Care Services Association

Every year on November 20, since 1954, the world celebrates Universal Children’s Day to spread awareness of improving child welfare worldwide, promoting and celebrating children’s rights and promoting togetherness and awareness amongst all children. [1] With Thanksgiving so close, we would like you to join us in taking a moment and thanking those who work tirelessly every day to improve the lives of our youngest children.

Whether that’s a parent, an early childhood educator, a doctor, child care provider, government leader, grandparent, volunteer, nurse, religious leader, an advocate for children, or a friend, we at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) thank you for your dedication and leadership to ensuring the mission that every child deserves access to affordable, high-quality child care and education.

What is high-quality early childhood education?

High-quality early childhood education is critical to a child’s development by creating a stimulating, safe and loving environment for children birth to 5. [2] “A high-quality program uses teaching approaches that support a child’s learning and curriculum goals. Teachers modify strategies to respond to the needs of individual children, and provide learning opportunities through both indoor and outdoor play.” [2]

“Quality programs are comprehensive.” [3] High-quality child birth-to-five programs have lasting boosts in cognition and socio-emotional skills driving better education, health, social and economic outcomes. [3] Research shows that “high-quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13% return on investment,” which means children are more likely to graduate high school, go to college, have a family and live a happier, more successful life. [3]

On Giving Tuesday (December 3), consider investing in our children—our future. At Child Care Services Association, we’re all about children. From helping children build healthy behaviors in what they eat and how they play to making sure their teachers are qualified, trained and adequately paid, CCSA focuses on a child’s early years, aiming to make them happy, stable and secure.

When all children have that start—a healthy foundation—we all do better.

Children are happier and more ready to enter school, parents are secure in knowing their child is being cared for and educated in a stable environment, and early childhood educators have the resources they need to continue their education and can support their families while pursuing the career they love.

At CCSA, we’re also all about making sure all children have that healthy foundation. To have that healthy foundation, all children need more stable relationships with better-educated and fairly compensated teachers that stay in their jobs.

In fact, research shows that early experiences are particularly important for the brain development of children of color and children from low-income families.

“The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five, in disadvantaged families. The best investment is in quality early childhood development from birth to five for disadvantaged children and their families.” [4]

At CCSA, we use research, services and advocacy to build a healthy foundation for every child because we believe all children deserve the best start at their best life.

How can you invest in high-quality early childhood education?

Give to CCSA today! Your gift may help support a parent who is starting a new job through our referral and scholarship programs or a child care teacher who wants to finish an early childhood education degree through our scholarship and compensation programs.

Our work results in enormous benefits for children, families and the community. Help us make sure every child has a good start to lifelong learning in a safe, nurturing, quality environment.

Donate today!


[1] https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/universal-childrens-day-2019/

[2] https://www.collabforchildren.org/families/what-high-quality-child-care

[3] https://heckmanequation.org/www/assets/2017/04/F_Heckman_CBA_InfographicHandout_040417.pdf

[4] https://heckmanequation.org/resource/invest-in-early-childhood-development-reduce-deficits-strengthen-the-economy/

By Marsha Basloe, President, and Linda Chappel, Sr. Vice President, Child Care Services Association

This past week, Durham PreK’s new website launched as a place for Durham County families to find information about enrolling 4-year-old children in Durham PreK, to find other local resources related to early childhood development and to learn about Durham’s commitment to equitable, high-quality education for all young children.

What is Durham PreK?

Durham PreK classrooms are located in private child care centers, Durham Public Schools and Head Start classrooms. With funding from the Durham County Board of Commissioners, the intent is to both enhance the quality of preschool programs and expand the number of children served through state and federally funded preschool programs. The goal is universal public PreK for all Durham County 4-year-old children – with preschool services offered for free for families with income at or below 300% of the federal poverty threshold and a sliding fee scale for families with income above 300% of poverty.

Why is pre-K important for young children?

Studies show that children who attend full-day high-quality pre-K programs are much more likely to start school with the skills to succeed, much more likely to perform at grade level and much more likely to graduate high school. A 2017 State of Durham County’s Young Children report found that only 38% of Durham children entering kindergarten had preliteracy skills at grade level (i.e., 62% of Durham children started kindergarten behind).

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recently released third-grade end of year test scores for those children who were in kindergarten in 2014-2015. For Durham, the gaps in grade level reading are enormous – by income, by race and by ethnicity. It’s easy to connect the dots. When children don’t start kindergarten ready to succeed, despite remediation efforts, the competency gaps remain. Children don’t fall behind in third grade, they start behind in kindergarten.

We can do better to prepare our children for school (and life)

That’s the message behind Durham PreK. Child Care Services Association is the management agency for Durham PreK and works collaboratively with Durham County Government, Durham’s Partnership for Children, Durham Public Schools, Durham Head Start and numerous other community partners to expand access to high-quality pre-K classrooms for Durham’s 4-year-olds.

County funding is used to not only serve more children but also to broaden eligibility for children to participate and to work with teachers and private centers to strengthen their quality through teacher and director support, mentoring and coaching. Going beyond licensing standards and NC Pre-K standards, Durham PreK provides instruction and coaching to strengthen the interactions between teachers and children.

Research shows that gains made across child development domains are higher when teacher interactions are more effective, intentional and geared toward the development of critical thinking skills and social-emotional development in children.[1]

Using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®)

The professional development tool used in Durham PreK is called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®) developed by the University of Virginia and used in 23 state quality rating and improvement systems, many state and local public pre-K programs, and by every Head Start program across the country.[2]

CLASS is both an assessment system and a professional development coaching system. Studies have consistently demonstrated greater gains by children (including dual language learning children) in key areas of school readiness – including literacy, math, social-emotional development and self-regulation when children are in classrooms with more effective teacher-child interactions. International research demonstrates the validity of CLASS across a broad set of cultural contexts.[3]

Offering braided funding options

What makes Durham PreK unique is the community has all leaned in to make a difference for children. Where possible, funding is braided so a mix of funding supports classrooms, which promotes greater diversity among participating children. Every child receives a developmental screening, and screening results, general program eligibility, parent preference and distance from home are all taken into consideration during the child placement process.

For programs to be eligible to participate in Durham PreK, they must be a 5-star rated child care center, lead pre-K teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and either have or be working toward a Birth to Kindergarten license. Onsite curriculum implementation support, professional development and education planning, teacher improvement strategies tied to CLASS®, leadership development for program directors and other supports for continuous quality improvement are provided.

Durham PreK’s plan to expand

Estimates are that there are about 4,450 4-year-old children in Durham.[4]  In the 2019-2020 school year, the intent is for 1,200 children to participate in public pre-K, an increase of about 245 children from last year. The overall goal over the next few years is to expand each year so that Durham PreK will be available to all families with 4-year-old children who choose to participate.

There are still some open spots for children. If you have a child who turned 4-years-old by August 31 or if you know a family with a 4-year-old, let them know – Durham PreK is open for business. To complete an application, call 919-403-6960 to speak to a coordinator (bilingual support is available), or you can download the Universal Preschool Application here

If we all lean in, all our children can enter kindergarten ready to succeed!


[1] Effective Teacher-Child Interactions and Child Outcomes: A Summary of Research on the Classroom  Assessment  Scoring System (CLASS®) Pre-K–3rd Grade (2017).

[2] CLASS®: A Leading QRIS Standard (2019).

[3] Teachstone research summary (2019)

[4] Voluntary, Universal Pre-kindergarten in Durham County How Do We Get There From Here? By Durham’s Community Early Education/Preschool Task Force.