Raising standards

Child-care rules need to be improved.

By Sue Russell

North Carolinians can take pride in our voluntary system to improve child care for our children, but our state still has some of the lowest minimum standards in the nation.

We allow ratios of one teacher to 15 three-year-olds or 20 four-year-olds. And that teacher can enter that classroom with no more than a high school education.

Over 150,000 preschool children in the state spend most of their days and waking hours in a licensed child-care setting, and about 40 percent of these children are under age three.

And 60,000 school-age children are in licensed child-care settings before and after a typical school day.

North Carolina has led the U.S. in creating a rated licensing system that guides consumers to a better understanding of what they are paying for with their child-care dollars.

The licensing system is based on the education of the staff in the child-care program, the overall quality of the child-care environment, and the program’s history of compliance to licensing standards.

As we begin the year 2005, 43 percent of children are in centers where the quality is very good.

Just five years ago, 41 percent of children were in centers with the lowest level of quality, compared to only 11 percent, or about 23,000 children, today.

With so many programs striving for and achieving higher quality, we can make some needed changes in minimum education standards and the child-staff ratios to get North Carolina off the floor nationally.

This will ensure that all children in our state get the child care they deserve and need to enter school at a level where they will be able to achieve.

With half of children in licensed child-care settings receiving some type of state or federal subsidy, ensuring that the quality of care is good enough is particularly important.

The research is clear that quality makes a difference for all children, especially our most vulnerable.

Raising standards will require a strategic investment of resources.  We must ensure that families who are in need of child-care assistance can access it, and that child-care providers are paid fairly for the quality of child care they provide.

We must ensure that child-care providers are given the support they need to attend school to improve their education, and the technical assistance they need to improve their classroom environments.

North Carolina has a proven record of helping existing programs upgrade their licensing standards.

Our General Assembly and the N.C. Child Care Commission should examine our licensing laws and standards.

Sue Russell is president of the Child Care Services Association based in Chapel Hill, N.C.

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