When Early Childhood Educators are Covered, Kids Win: Stories from North Carolina

If you, like me, have the peace of mind of knowing that your toddler or preschooler is well cared for and supported while you’re at work, you probably know already that you’re incredibly fortunate. I am grateful every day for the many early childhood teachers who make the safety, educational success, and wellbeing of a classroom of young children their No. 1 priority day in and day out.

We know that when children experience positive, nurturing interactions with adults in their lives, it supports healthy brain development and long-term success. But when their caregivers cannot access health insurance, the stress from untreated health conditions or unaffordable health costs can disrupt those critical caregiver-child interactions.

As we watch many states debate Medicaid expansion, it’s important to understand the day-to-day lives of those who will be affected. We often highlight the many parents in non-expansion states that can’t afford private health insurance and make too much to qualify for Medicaid. But we know that many other adults who support children – non-custodial parents, aunts and uncles, and early childhood educators – would gain coverage as well.

So I was thrilled to see that our friends at NC Child sought to raise profile of the child care workforce in the expansion debate. Their new analysis shows that one in five early childhood educators in North Carolina are uninsured. These statistics are glaring. But it’s the voices and images of some of these dedicated teachers that bring the data to life.

Consider Meranda from Wake Forest. She loves teaching toddlers, and has been an early childhood educator for six years. Cancer runs in her family, including for her mom, and she tears up discussing the burden of worrying about affording treatment if she ever faces her own diagnosis. LH, a seven-year veteran from Garner, can’t afford insurance for herself and chooses to sacrifice it so she can keep her family clothed, housed and cared for. See more in NC Child’s video:

These hard working teachers are not the exception. They are passionate, dedicated and eager to build careers supporting young children, even in the face of low wages and limited benefits. One of the teachers profiled, Anetra Dial-Carter of Lumberton, was compelled to write a moving op-ed that gets to the heart of the opportunity at hand:  

I hope that our state’s leaders will listen to the voices of early childhood educators. We love our jobs, and we love your children. We want to be able to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our families, and your families. Early childhood is such a fundamental part of your child’s success later in life. We deserve to be able to get health care.

It’s past time to do more for those who selflessly protect and guide our youngest children every day. Expanding Medicaid is a critical first step.

Elisabeth Wright Burak is a Senior Fellow at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy’s Center for Children and Families.