Making High Quality Pre-K a Priority

A row of men with different ages and racial backgrounds watch a presentation and take notes during a focus group session

Research shows that attending high quality pre-K prepares children to succeed in school and beyond. But, in Forsyth County, only 25 percent of four-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality, publicly-funded pre-K program.

That’s why the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable is committed to an outcomes-based strategy designed to support universal access to pre-K education in Forsyth County. We are working in partnership with our local community to make this happen, through a new coalition: The Pre-K Priority.

Supported by a Great Expectations grant from the Trust to Family Services, the Pre-K Priority initiative is laying the groundwork, so that all of Forsyth County’s children enter kindergarten ready to learn and leave set for success.

“We believe that access to quality childcare is fundamental for all young children in Forsyth County,” says Joe Crocker, Local Impact and Great Expectations program officer for the Trust. “That’s why we are supporting Family Services and the Pre-K Priority’s efforts to develop and implement a universal pre-K strategy.”

Universal pre-K matters now and for the future 

More than 14 years of research studies of North Carolina’s pre-K program show positive outcomes for children. Children who attend strong pre-K programs are less likely to be held back, and more likely to graduate from high school and have higher earnings as an adult.

But despite these short- and long-term benefits, pre-K has yet to become a standard practice in Forsyth County. Although approximately 2,700 children are eligible for high-quality, publicly-funded pre-K, due to lack of funding, less than half are actually enrolled. This leaves many children at risk of entering the school system unprepared to learn.

Designing a roadmap based on research and community support

Over the past four years, Family Services has led a community-based team to assess successful implementation of universal pre-K systems in other states and other counties in North Carolina. This coalition of early childhood education practitioners, parents, community members, civic and business leaders, and government officials, Family Services has developed recommendations that address issues of equity, access, and quality.

As part of the Trust’s ongoing strategy to listen and learn from the community, Family Services and their community partners held listening sessions with a broad cross-section of the community. The resulting roadmap identifies three clear areas for action:

  • Ensure that the quality of pre-K education is high by attracting high-quality teachers, adopting research-based early learning models, and ensuring that families are engaged and supported.
  • Attract highly-qualified teachers to pre-K by outlining clear career pathways and professional development opportunities for teachers in the field and improving funding for pre-K positions.
  • Increase awareness of the need throughout the county, to garner support from parents, schools, community leadership, and policy- and decision-makers.

Blending public health systems with private child care, the program is designed to reach families in diverse settings, and in particular support families with low incomes and families of color.

With these community-driven, evidence-based recommendations as a rallying point, Pre-K Priority is now working with a broad cross-section of Forsyth County leaders, including representatives from the school district. “If it hadn’t been for the Trust,” said Bob Feikema, president and CEO of Family Services, “it would have been much later before we arrived where we needed to be.”

A campaign to give children the tools they need to thrive

The North Carolina legislature has committed to increasing funding to the statewide pre-K program to serve an additional 3,500 children within two years. Although a much needed investment, that number is insufficient for the state and Forsyth County’s needs. More work needs to be done to ensure that the nearly 4,500 who might benefit from a universal pre-K program are enrolled.

The Pre-K Priority initiative is designed to build support across the community, leveraging the coalition’s recommendations to advocate for an addition of as many as 10 to 15 pre-K classrooms each year and new funding for teaching positions and professional development.

One of the campaign’s strategies is to increase understanding of the value of early childhood education. An informed Forsyth County means a community that supports high-quality pre-K for all its children and legislators that understand the urgent need for action. That’s why the Pre-K Priority is increasing awareness so everyone—policymakers, educators, and parents—can work to make universal pre-K a reality in our county.