Annual Report 2021

Letter from the Director

As we look back on this year, we are overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude for the work of child care heroes serving children, families and communities every day; gratitude for advocates and community members who have never given up and continue to raise their voices for change; and gratitude for you!

It has been another challenging year, to say the least, but your hard work and dedication give us hope. You’ve joined us for our Worthy Wages Campaign to support the essential early childhood workforce, you’ve joined us to put babies and families first while we Think Babies™ NC together, you’ve joined us online and in person to work with state legislators, and you’ve joined us to call for the transformative changes that are needed at the federal level to make child care work for everyone.

This hard work has made a difference. And there is still more work to be done to make sure that every child and family – regardless of race, income, or zip code – has access to high-quality early learning experiences with educators who are compensated and valued for their important work.

We hope that you enjoy this year in review, as we celebrate all that we have accomplished together in 2021 and look ahead to the exciting opportunities that next year will bring. We are honored to work alongside of you. Thank you for your support and partnership!

Jenna Nelson, Executive Director

2021 Highlights

Policy and Advocacy

The NC Early Education Coalition is the only statewide advocacy coalition dedicated to promoting high-quality, accessible and affordable child care in North Carolina. We accomplish our mission of advocacy and education by: developing policy positions, researching and producing fact sheets, providing training and resources, cultivating relationships with policymakers and the media, engaging a full-time lobbying team at the NC General Assembly, mobilizing advocates, and collaborating with state and national early childhood partners.

As we continued to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic this year, our digital strategies became more creative, innovative, and effective as we all continued to adapt to a mostly virtual world.

Legislative Briefing: We held a legislative briefing to kick off the 2021 NC General Assembly's Legislative Session in January. This briefing was attended by nearly 50 legislators, representing both parties and key committee members. We prepared a Guide to Early Education and featured child care providers, teachers, and parents as speakers.

Worthy Wages NC Campaign: We said "enough is enough" and launched the Worthy Wages NC campaign to support professional compensation, benefits, and respect for the early childhood workforce. To date, this grassroots campaign has engaged thousands of advocates - including many child care teachers and providers - who have sent more than 10,000 messages to policymakers, engaged with weekly emails for 9 months, garnered 1,600 signatures on a petition, and raised public awareness through countless social media messages, media interviews, and videos. Click here to learn more about the Worthy Wages NC campaign, view the campaign toolkit, and find out how to get involved in 2022.

Leandro v. the State of North Carolina: The landmark case of Leandro v. State of North Carolina affirms every child’s state constitutional right to a sound, basic education beginning in early childhood. In the fall of 2021, a series of court hearings pushed this case forward in new ways. We advocated for compliance and helped to educated early childhood advocates about how the Leandro Plan impacts young children, their families, and their educators. Click here to read our statement on Leandro compliance, which was supported by other statewide early childhood advocacy organizations.

Budget Advocacy: The majority of our advocacy efforts this year were focused on increasing investments in early education in the state budget. After a very long legislative session, the final state budget was released and passed in mid-November. Although there are some bright spots (Recurring funding for Smart Start! Federal funds for Child Care Subsidy! Postpartum Medicaid coverage!), we believe the budget represents a missed opportunity for North Carolina’s young children, their families, their educators, and their communities. Click here to read our statement on the final budget.


From webinars and trainings, to in-person advocacy, to social media, to Zoom, Zoom, and more Zoom, our 2021 events brought together advocates, parents, child care providers and teachers, community members, and policymakers to raise awareness about early childhood priorities in North Carolina.

Worthy Wages Celebration: We held a virtual Worthy Wages Celebration that was attended by nearly 200 people and featured personal stories and remarks from policymakers, including Governor Cooper, as well as from child care providers, teachers, and parents. Click here to watch a video of this event.

National Strolling Thunder: We attended the national Strolling Thunder event, hosted virtually by ZERO TO THREE's Think Babies™ campaign. We accompanied an amazing NC advocate - a father and his toddler daughter - to talk to Members of Congress about the importance of paid family and medical leave.

Strolling Thunder NC: We held our 4th annual Strolling Thunder NC event this year. This virtual event featured legislative champions, parent testimonials, and advocacy workshops to help advocates make their voices heard for babies and their families. Click here to watch a video of this event.

Celebrating Child Care Heroes: We recognized the child care heroes in our state and raised our glasses for a virtual toast to celebrate the strength and resilience of our child care industry. Click here to read about the Child Care Hero Award winners.

Early Education Advocacy Day: We held an in-person Early Education Advocacy Day at the NC General Assembly to meet with legislators and deliver materials about the need to improve compensation for child care teachers and improve child care subsidy rates. More than 30 child care providers, teachers, parents, and community advocates traveled to Raleigh from all corners of the state to meet with their legislators. Read about our advocacy day as covered by EducationNC.

Listening Sessions: We held a series of listening sessions - with child care providers and with our Coalition members - to talk about the challenges we have overcome, the opportunity that lies ahead, and what is needed in order for us all to work together to build a better early childhood system for everyone.

Think Babies™ NC

Think Babies™ NC seeks to ensure that North Carolina’s youngest children, prenatal to age 3, benefit from effective and equitable public policies, programs, and funding so that all children have what they need to thrive: healthy beginnings, supported families, and quality early care and learning experiences.

The NC Early Education Coalition serves as the backbone organization of the Think Babies™ NC Alliance, led by a cross-sector Leadership Team of state and local organizations focused on advancing public awareness and policy solutions for infants, toddlers, and their families. We are a proud partner in the national ZERO TO THREE Think Babies™ campaign and the National Collaborative for Infants and Toddlers, which is funded in part by the Pritzker Children’s Initiative.

Policy Priorities for Babies: The Think Babies™ NC Alliance released our 2021-2025 Prenatal-to-Age 3 Policy Priorities, covering health, family support, and early care and learning. Together, these policy priorities will create stronger families, vibrant communities and a prosperous future for North Carolina. A large number of bills - many with bipartisan support - were filed during the 2021 Legislative Session to advance our PN-3 priorities. Click here to read the Think Babies™ NC Alliance statement on the final budget.

Racial Equity: The Think Babies™ NC Alliance Leadership Team has spent more than a year diving into its own practices using a racial equity lens. This summer, after the completion of a Racial Equity Assessment by consultants, the Leadership Team moved forward on revising multiple components of the internal and external operations, communications, and membership of Think Babies NC Alliance. We are committed to creating a more equitable Alliance, which will in turn promote a more equitable policy agenda for infants, toddlers and their families. Click here to learn more about the Think Babies™ NC Alliance Leadership Team.

Build Back Better for Babies: We joined national partners for ongoing campaigns to tell Congress to Build Back Better for babies! The Build Back Better Act will provide game-changing investments in child care, expand the Child Tax Credit to cut poverty in half, and extend paid leave benefits to more families. Thanks to the hard work of advocates, the Build Back Better Act is making its way through Congress.

Think Babies™ NC Micro-Grant Partners: Our 4th round of Think Babies™ NC Community Micro-Grant Partners completed their projects to build public awareness and policymaker support for babies and their families. This locally-based work included activities such as: conducting research to learn more about the needs of and supports for families of infants and toddlers, raising public awareness about the importance of infant-toddler care and development, and improving advocacy skills to impact policy. Click here to read more about their efforts.


This year, we celebrated our one year anniversary of becoming a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization! Our portfolio of programs and initiatives continued to grow, along with our staff, and we received new and renewed grant funding from ZERO TO THREE, the Pritzker Children's Initiative, and Z. Smith Reynolds to continue our work for young children, their families, and their educators.

New Staff: In February, we hired our first Executive Director, Jenna Nelson! Jenna has brought a wealth of experience to the role, with previous jobs in multiple facets of the early childhood field. We also hired two additional staff members to support our growing portfolio of programs and initiatives.

New Initiatives: We launched several new child care initiatives, primarily focused on infants and toddlers, including a Family Child Care Home Advisory Team, county-level infant-toddler child care fact sheets, and a new Early Head Start grant, in collaboration with the NC Head Start Association, that is engaging parents, providers, teachers, and other community stakeholders across the state. Click here to read more about these initiatives.

Get Involved

Young children and families depend on us to be their champion. Our work depends on you.

Now is the time to transform child care. We can't do this work without you. We need your help to continue our work to win new victories for young children, their families, their educators, and their communities. Every contribution makes a big difference! Here are a few ways you can get involved and support the Coalition:

Become a Member

Our members are a diverse group of statewide organizations, regional and local child care agencies, child care providers, and individuals. They are the heart and soul of our work and the best advocates we know!

Make a Donation

Every contribution makes a big difference! Your contribution will support work that is critical to making progress on issues impacting our state’s youngest children.

Contact Us

Want to learn more about the NC Early Education Coalition? Please explore our website or send us an email!