Mecklenburg County

 Property Tax and County Budget Allocation

The Early Childhood Education Executive Committee met for two years to review access to early childhood education for children from birth to five. As discussions were underway to reach consensus on recommendations, in June of 2017, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved $6 million within the FY18 county budget to reduce the child care subsidy waiting list for children under age five.  In addition, the BOCC approved an increase in the property tax rate of three-quarters of a penny to raise more than $9 million to open 33 new public pre-k classrooms, referred to as “MECK Pre-K”. This funding was considered to be the first installment on a pathway to provide voluntary, universal public pre-k for all four-year-old children throughout the county

children under the age of six in Mecklenburg County

%

of children under age five live in poverty in Mecklenburg County

MECK Pre-K classrooms opened in 2018 serving 600 children

Challenges

Commissioners Concerned about Raising Revenues

Several county commissioners raised concerns about increasing revenues. To gauge public interest and support for investing in early childhood education, including support for increasing revenue to specifically fund increased investments, a county-wide poll was conducted in May and June of 2017. Of 1,000 total respondents, support for expanding access to high-quality child care and public pre-k was strong across income, age, gender, race, ethnicity, level of education, and households with and without young children. The survey specifically asked respondents whether they would be willing to pay higher taxes to support greater access to early learning programs. Half of respondents were asked if they would pay $10 more per month in taxes to support early childhood education and the other half were asked whether they would be willing to pay $20 more per month in taxes.

Willing to pay $10 more per month in taxes to support early childhood education: 72% of respondents said they would be willing to pay $10 more in taxes each month to increase access to child care for young children; 71% of respondents said they would be willing to pay $10 more in taxes each month to support voluntary, universal public pre-k for four-year-old children.

Willing to pay $10 more per month in taxes to support early childhood education: 71% of respondents said they would be willing to pay $20 more in taxes each month to increase access to child care for young children; 65% of respondents said they would be willing to pay $20 more in taxes each month to support voluntary, universal public pre-k for four-year-old children.

Incomplete Data

Despite a strong history of CMS operating Bright Beginnings and NC Pre-K, little child outcome data was available for participating children. There was great concern over Mecklenburg County 3rd grade end-of-year test scores, with particular attention paid to the large gaps between low-income children and children who were not from low-income families, as well as the gaps between test results for African American and Hispanic children compared to white children. While test scores showed some modest improvement annually, far too many African American and Hispanic children were scoring below grade level in reading and math at the end of third grade. The Executive Committee recommended “MECK Pre-K,” which would follow most of the NC Pre-K rules but embed the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS™), a professional development tool, that research has shown improves interactions between classroom teachers and students and results in greater child outcomes across developmental domains. Bright Beginnings and NC Pre-K do not currently use CLASS™.

Getting to Action

The Harvard University/UC Berkeley study was a wake-up call for community action. The Charlotte Leadership Council (CELC), a group of 24+ Charlotte CEOs raised $500,000 to fund a feasibility study with regard to early childhood education expansion in the county. The county manager convened an Early Childhood Executive Committee that met for two years. The first year resulted in the recommendation of a 5-point plan and the second year culminated with an implementation progress report released in February of 2019. The committee will meet during the next year to examine access to early childhood education for children under age three and make additional recommendations.

2014National study ranked Charlotte 50th of the nation’s 50 largest cities on upward mobility for children born in poverty
2015Opportunity Task Force created led by the Foundation for the Carolinas (along with other community funders in coordination with the city of Charlotte and County Commissioners).
Dec 2016Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) approved a resolution supporting access to early childhood education for all children under age five.
Fall 2016Charlotte Executive Leadership Council (CELC) raised $500,000 for a feasibility study to review access to early childhood education and make recommendations. The County Manager formed an Early Childhood Education Executive Committee, a broad group of stakeholders including business leaders, to conduct the review and make recommendations.
Mar 2017Opportunity Task Force report released with three key determinants related to economic opportunity: access to early care and education; college and career readiness and child and family stability.
Mar-May 2017Early Childhood Executive Committee held 12 focus groups to gather community perspectives on opportunities and challenges related to accessing early learning programs.
May-Jun 2017Early Childhood Executive Committee commissioned a county-wide poll to gauge public interest and support for early learning programs and revenue options.
Jun 2017BOCC allocated $6 million out of the county budget to reduce the child care subsidy waiting list for children under age five.
Sep 2017Early childhood education executive committee released a five-point plan with recommendations
Jun 2018BOCC continued $6 million to support a reduction in the waiting list for children under age five and increased the property tax rate by three-quarters of a penny to raise more than $9 million to open 33 new MECK Pre-K classrooms for the 2018-2019 school year.
Feb 2019Early Childhood Education Executive Committee released an implementation progress report on the five-point plan in year one and recommended an additional 36 classrooms for MECK Pre-K in year two (2018-2019 school year), a compensation and quality pilot for classroom staff working in infant and toddler child care classrooms, and talent development strategies to invest in the early learning workforce.
Jun 2019BOCC will meet to decide FY20 county budget, which includes the recommendations contained in the implementation report.

Result

Since the Early Childhood Education Executive Committee began its review of access to early childhood programs in the spring of 2017, 1,048 more four-year-old children in Mecklenburg County currently have access to public pre-k (in Bright Beginnings, NC Pre-K, and MECK Pre-K), which together serve about 5,254 four-year-old children (about half-way to the goal of voluntary, universal public pre-k). An additional 340 children under age five currently receive child care subsidy since 2017.

Thirty-three MECK Pre-K classrooms opened in the fall of 2018 serving 600 children. A new public dashboard will post results from annual external evaluations by the Frank Porter Graham Institute, as well as aggregate CLASS™ and child development growth scores (measured against six domains: social-emotional, language, literacy, cognitive, physical and math).

Keys to Success

Engagement and leadership by the Charlotte Executive Leadership Council (CELC)

Engagement and leadership by county commissioners and the County Manager

Strong polling results showed public support for expanding access and raising revenue to invest in early childhood education

Engagement by a broad array of stakeholders lending time and resources to review and discuss barriers, challenges and opportunities related to access to early childhood education

Public awareness and engagement efforts to both raise visibility about the need to expand programs and get the word out about the enrollment process for MECK Pre-K

Accountability and transparency: evaluations and public results dashboard