Gov. Cooper signed an executive order on Wednesday calling for an early childhood action plan to expand young children’s learning opportunities and improve their health outcomes.
The order comes almost six months after Cooper re-authorized the early childhood advisory council, which will help craft the action plan.
Cindy Watkins, president of the North Carolina Partnership for Children, is on the 25-member council. She says historically the state has largely focused its early childhood education efforts on four year olds through its NC Pre-K program. The action plan could shift some of those resources to younger children, she said.
“We have research that indicates the first five years of life are the most important in terms of developing their future educational trajectory. But now we even have further research and evidence that says it’s the first three years that are even more critical," Watkins said. "I think this early childhood action plan will allow us to focus on the needs of children in terms of a continuum from the time they are born prenatally up through third grade.”
A statewide early childhood action plan is part of an effort to ensure children are reading by the time they reach third grade.
“Kids that are reading by third grade are typically going to be reading throughout high school and graduate," Watkins said. "Kids who are not reading by third grade are typically not going to be successful throughout the rest of their high school career.”
Cooper's executive order claims healthy childhood development could ultimately strenthen the state's workforce and reduce health care costs and incarceration rates. The draft early childhood action plan is due by Nov. 1.