Solutions for Expanding Pre-K Access Matter to Business

One of the top goals on our 2019 Jobs Agenda is finding ways to eliminate barriers and expand enrollment in NC’s high-quality Pre-K program to 75% of eligible children. Today, leaders from several NC Chamber Cornerstone member companies including Jim Goodnight from SAS, Dale Jenkins from Medical Mutual, Jim Whitehurst from Red Hat and Jim Hansen from PNC announced a new report that identifies critical steps to accomplishing that goal.

Just-released research from Duke University demonstrates why NC is all-in on Pre-K: the benefits of the program persist through middle school, reduce placement into special education and increase math and reading test scores. It’s also a key factor in kids’ readiness for elementary school, where they’ll learn critical skills like literacy that impact their futures for years to come. This matters to the business community as we assess the current state of our talent pipeline: as job creators struggle to fill open positions today, we need to know that students are being prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.

As one of the best programs in the country, NC Pre-K should be an option for as many families as possible. Unfortunately, while enrollment is trending in a positive direction, 53% of eligible children are still not being served. Even more troubling, 34 counties declined any funds for expansion in 2018. Clearly, there are barriers for students, providers and counties that must be addressed.

The National Institute for Early Education Research’s report examined three major factors that could impact enrollment: the number of children eligible for NC Pre-K but unserved, whether county “waiting lists” are accurate measures of unserved children, and which barriers have the greatest effect on expansion. Some of their key findings include:

  • The number of eligible but unserved children far exceeds the number of children on “waiting lists,” the funded slots available, and the current capacity to serve more children.
  • County “waiting lists” are not accurate measures of need or demand for NC Pre-K.
  • Current funding models and resources do not cover the costs of expansion.

Fortunately, the report also identifies some solutions that could help us achieve our goal of 75% enrollment, including financial incentives for private centers, changes to reimbursement rates, exploring different funding formulas and more. While we’re still digging into the report’s recommendations, I’m encouraged by the attention and interest this issue is receiving. Pre-K matters to the business community and we’re eager to get to work on solutions that will help us serve North Carolina’s children.

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