CED has been working in partnership with the Early Learning Policy Group since the fall of 2016 as part of a public-private partnership to pursue an expansion of early learning opportunities for children birth to five throughout Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

The Charlotte Executive Leadership Council (CELC, a group of more than two dozen Charlotte CEOs) funded a two-phase feasibility study to review the early childhood education (ECE) landscape throughout the county, undertake county-wide polling, conduct 12 focus groups with a broad array of stakeholders (e.g., parents, child care providers, the higher education community, business leaders, the faith community, etc.) to better understand needs and barriers, and to regularly meet with an ECE executive committee to put together a county plan to expand access to ECE. The Early Childhood Education 5-Point Plan was presented to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners in September 2017.

Based on the recommendations made in the 5-Point Plan, in June of 2018, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners approved a modest increase in the property tax rate (three-quarters of a penny) to fund the first year of a six-year planned phase-in of voluntary, universal public pre-k for 4-year-old children throughout the county. The tax rate increase, which yielded about $9 million, was part of the FY19 adopted budget by the Commissioners that also included $6 million to reduce the child care subsidy waiting list for children under age five. Pursuant to the FY19 county budget, 33 new “MECK Pre-K” classrooms operating in community-based child care programs opened in the fall of 2018 with spots for about 600 children. Lead teachers have a Bachelor's Degree and a B-K teaching license (or are enrolled in coursework to obtain their license).

CED and Early Learning Policy Group worked with the ECE Executive Committee on a progress report related to the first year implementation as well as additional recommendations to pursue in the FY20 budget. These reports were released on February 27, 2019.

The initiative could not have been successful without the leadership of the CELC, which includes participation from CED Trustee, Tom Nelson, CEO of National Gypsum. The company also has representation on the broader Mecklenburg County Executive Committee overseeing implementation of MECK Pre-K and related ECE expansion efforts for children ages birth to three. This is an excellent example of committed leadership from the business community to directly impact today’s children and tomorrow’s workforce.

CED will continue to be involved in supporting the Executive Committee through 2019 with a focus on teacher recruitment (including bilingual educators), preparation, retention, professional development, and compensation strategies to meet the increased public pre-k expansion demand as well as reviewing ways to expand early childhood education for children birth to three.