The House and Senate have now agreed to a final state budget, a document that offers a glimpse into our state’s future—will we put our children on a path to success by providing them with a world-class education and high-quality health care? Or, will we hope that what’s in place is good enough for our future workers, leaders, and educators?
Despite some good decisions that will prevent further regression, overall support for children’s early development remains inadequate and stuck at recession-era levels.
NC Child appreciates the dedication of legislative advocates in both the House and the Senate who worked hard for this agreement. However, we believe investments in North Carolina’s youngest children need to be strengthened substantially if our state is to be economically competitive with other states and countries.
This is a challenge that grows with every passing year, because both the number and proportion of North Carolina children growing up in poverty is increasing. Between 2008 and 2013 child poverty in North Carolina increased 25 percent—an additional 120,000 children became poor. Now one fourth of our children are growing up in poverty. Research shows that growing up in poverty adversely affects children’s brain development, putting them at risk of lower educational achievement.
Following are the areas of NC Child’s recommendations to budget conferees, and the outcome.
Child care subsidy: The budget agreement partially restores access to child care assistance, making it possible for more families to get good child care for their children while they work or go to school. Specifically, the budget redefines “family income unit,” so that the income of relative caregivers, like grandparents, doesn’t count against a child’s eligibility. The budget also reestablishes a prorated parent fee for part-time child care.
Additionally, the budget raises the market rate for child care providers in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties for infant and young toddler care, so rural providers in these counties can re-establish more costly infant care slots, now in a shortage.
NC Pre-K funding: The Senate budget would have resulted in the loss of 520 NC Pre-K slots. The final budget follows the House proposal, which included $2.3M in state funding and an additional $2.7M of lottery funding to retain those slots.
Child Welfare Case Management System: Currently, the state of North Carolina is unable to track children in the child welfare system across county lines, which leads to obvious safety concerns. Funding for a new software system to track these children was included in the Senate budget, but not included in the final budget.
Foster Care through Age 21: The Senate budget increased the age of foster care to 21, which would provide critical support for children in foster care as they move towards independence; this provision was included in the final budget.
Infant Mortality Prevention: In a positive move, the final budget includes funding to reduce infant mortality: $375,000 to the ECU High Risk Maternity Clinic, $45,000 to the Safe Sleep campaign, $350,000 to the March of Dimes, and $52,000 for the 17Pprogram. It also funds $2.5 million in state funds for a competitive block grant process for county health departments to increase access to prenatal care and improve birth outcomes and allocates $1.575 million from the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant for evidence-based programs in counties with the highest infant mortality rates.
Funding for Mental Health Treatment: The final budget takes a smaller cut to the agencies (LME/MCOs) that provide mental health services than what was proposed by the Senate. The final budget reduces single stream funding to the LME/MCOs by $111M in ’15-16 and $153M in ’16-17, and replaces it with existing LME/MCO cash balances.
Wright School: Funding for the Wright School is maintained in the final budget.
Office of Minority Health: The final budget does not eliminate the Office of Minority Health as the Senate proposed. The Office is retained, and the final budget retains their current budget level by shifting $2.8 million in federal funds to replace state funds.
Juvenile Justice Residential Beds: The budget included $2M in additional funding for residential beds for detained youths, which will expand capacity at Level II residential facilities and support crisis beds as an alternative to detention.
Driver’s Education: The final budget continues funding for Driver’s Education for one year. It directs the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee to study data gathered by local boards of education, along with other research and past recommendations of the Program Evaluation Division, and make recommendations on the program.
By and large, House and Senate budget conferees made good decisions when they hashed out their differences. However, since their starting place was two inadequate budget proposals, the final state budget never had a chance to meet the needs of our state’s children. Moving forward, we must think seriously about our trajectory as a state and whether or not we are providing the support that children and families need to prosper now and in the future.