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North Carolina ranks middle of the road in preschool access, quality compared to other states

April 17, 2019
Liz Bell
Education NC

The quality of North Carolina’s state-funded preschool, NC Pre-K, ranked in the middle of the pack when compared with other states in a new report by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), housed within Rutgers University.

Officially released today, the annual yearbook looks at states’ public preschool programs — how much states spend per child and the reach and quality of those programs. When it comes to funding, North Carolina’s program ranked 20 in state spending and 10 in overall spending when compared to 50 states and Washington, D.C.

State funding covers about 60% of the cost of NC Pre-K. The rest of the cost is funded with a blend of federal and local funds. Find more on the cost of NC Pre-K and who covers it here from the NC Early Childhood Foundation. According to the report, the state spent $5,428 per child enrolled in 2018, down slightly from $5,490 in 2017.

Steven Barnett, NIEER’s senior co-director, said North Carolina’s preschool program has had research studying its effectiveness since inception.

“North Carolina has a program that’s had a long history of excellence. It’s got solid research data behind it,” Barnett said in an Education Writer’s Association webinar in response to a question from EducationNC.

But Barnett said he is concerned that state allocations are not sufficient to maintain the quality of the program.

“They haven’t changed the standards but you have less money to meet them,” Barnett said. “That’s a problem.”

He said the gap between compensation for public elementary school teachers and pre-K teachers in North Carolina is worrisome. According to the report, in public preschool settings, pre-K teachers make an average of $15,861 less than elementary school teachers. In private settings, pre-K teachers make an average of $26,351 less than elementary school teachers. Some NC Pre-K slots are within private settings. The average salary in 2018 for lead pre-K teachers was $35,000 in public settings and $24,510 in private settings. For public elementary school teachers, the average salary was $50,861.