Latest NC Rankings for Pre-K Access, Funding, and Quality

According to the 2018 State of Preschool Report released by the National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER), North Carolina has increased state preschool funding and enrollment and remained about the same in terms of quality. NC has provided state-funded pre-kindergarten education to 4-year-olds since 2001, now called NC Pre-Kindergarten (NC Pre-K). Nationwide, NC Pre-K ranks high in quality for its strong early learning policies and use of best practices. Read more about the quality of NC Pre-K in NCECF’s blog post from earlier this year.   

Access: NC is below the national average in terms of percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in state-funded preschool. In 2017-18, 23 percent of NC 4-year-olds were enrolled in NC Pre-K, compared to 22 percent in 2016-17, a slight uptick in enrollment that the NC General Assembly has signaled it plans to continue for the next few years. Nationwide, a third of 4-year-olds in the U.S. were enrolled in state-funded preschool programs in 2018. NC ranked 27th among the 50 states and D.C. for preschool access. Unlike in many states, three-year-olds are not eligible for state-funded preschool in NC.

Funding: While many states are decreasing state funding, NC increased pre-K spending by nearly $5.8 million dollars last year, with plans to continue increased funding. North Carolina ranks 20th in state spending and 10th in all reported spending per child when compared to the other states and districts. With total state funding at about $154 million dollars last year, NC spends about $5,500 per child per year. About 60 percent of the total cost of NC Pre-K is covered by state funding. The remainder is funded by blended local and federal contributions. To learn more, read NCECF’s report What Does NC Pre-K Cost?

Quality: North Carolina met 8 of 10 quality standard benchmarks, such as comprehensive and culturally sensitive standards, specialized teacher training in pre-K, class size, staff-child ratio, and continuous quality improvement. The two benchmarks NC did not meet were related to pre-K assistant teacher qualifications and specific staff professional development requirements. NCECF’s Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Action Framework recommends actions in these and other areas to ensure an accessible and high-quality education for all NC children.

This year’s State of Preschool report includes a special section on policies affecting the preschool teacher workforce including salary and benefits. NIEER recommends paying preschool teachers comparably with K-3 teachers with similar qualifications. NC currently requires a BA and K-3 salary parity only for NC Pre-K teachers in public schools, not for NC Pre-K teachers in private childcare centers. Research shows that interactions between educators and children is the most influential school-based factor for young children’s educational outcomes, and that high-quality interactions are more likely with well-educated, well-trained and well-compensated educators. 

“Nationally, we are disappointed by the lack of progress and concerned about the number of children missing the quality early learning experiences that can make a lifelong difference,” said NIEER Founder and Senior Co-Director Steven Barnett, Ph.D. “North Carolina is moving in the right direction with increased investments and access for 4-year-olds to the state program.”

The National Institute for Early Education Research based out of Rutgers University supports early childhood education policy and practice through independent, objective research. NIEER releases a State of Preschool yearbook every year with updated national and state data. View NIEER’s North Carolina preschool report for more details.