Research Report

Barriers to Expansion of NC Pre-K

Problems and Potential Solutions

By W. Steven Barnett, PhD, with assistance from Richard Kasmin, NIEER

North Carolina’s preschool program has solid evidence that it produces long-term benefits, but most children eligible for NC Pre-K are unable to enroll due to inadequate state funding, according to an analysis by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Barriers to Expansion of NC Pre-K: Problems and Potential Solutions highlights three interrelated issues critical to expanding the NC Pre-K program: accurately determining how many children are eligible for NC Pre-k but lack access; analyzing whether county “waiting lists” reflect the need for NC Pre-K, and barriers to expanding NC Pre-K to fully meet the actual need.

The NC Pre-K program was launched in 2001 to provide to high-quality early learning opportunities to at-risk children. Research by Duke University has found NC Pre-K boosted math and reading test scores and reduced special education placements and grade repetition through the end of primary school.

However, NC Pre-K now reaches less than half (47 percent) the children it was designed to serve. Significant numbers of young children–almost 33,000–across all races and ethnicities, in both rural and urban areas, are losing the opportunity to develop foundational skills needed to succeed in school and beyond. In fact, 40 counties are serving less than half of eligible children.

While children may be attending other early education programs, those programs do not provide all the quality components of NC Pre-K—so those vulnerable children are less likely to gain the lasting benefits provided by NC Pre-K.

The new NIEER report identifies financial barriers undermining the promise of NC Pre-K, and recommends policy changes to overcome them.

The Authors

W. Steven (Steve) Barnett is a Board of Governors Professor and the founder and Senior Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. Dr. Barnett’s work primarily focuses on public policies regarding early childhood education, child care, and child development.