- While North Carolina has a reputation for supporting high-quality early education programs, a new analysis by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) finds that the state's current funding method creates barriers that limit children's access to pre-K. Currently 47% of eligible children in the state attend the state-funded program.
- NC Pre-K, launched in 2001, has produced good results in most children with access. Research by Duke University found participation boosted math and reading test scores, lowered the likelihood children would repeat a grade by the end of primary school and reduced the need for special education.
- NIEER recommends state policymakers develop targets to enroll 75% of eligible children based on census data, increase the state pre-K reimbursement rate which was set in 2012, encourage new pre-K start ups with grants to cover expansion costs and require school districts to enroll all eligible children in the program.
The recent report reinforces that most states are still a long way from providing universal access to well-designed pre-K programs, even though state lawmakers are likely to hear and consider plenty of early-childhood proposals this legislative season. And most will be faced with decisions over whether to strengthen the quality of existing programs or increase funding to spread successful models to more children. A 2016 Learning Policy report, that focused on four states with high-quality preschool programs — Michigan, West Virginia, Washington and North Carolina — highlighted that one area in which these states have excelled is connecting their those programs to elementary schools as part of birth-to-3rd grade initiatives program in order to continue building on what children learn in pre-K.
While policymakers and researchers often focus on short-term benefits of early learning programs, attention in recent years has started to shift to more lasting advantages. For example, additional research on children who attended North Carolina's pre-K program shows that these students are 11% more likely to graduate from high school. According to the Urban Child Institute, children enrolled in pre-K programs are also more likely to have an improved quality of life and less likely to be involved in crime or be arrested. One 2016 study led by Nobel-winning economist James Heckman indicated that “high-quality early childhood development programs can deliver an annual return of 13% per child on upfront costs through better outcomes in education, health, employment and social behavior in the decades that follow.”