It began as More at Four under former Gov. Mike Easley, a free program started 15 years ago to primarily serve children whose family incomes didn’t exceed 75 percent of the state median. The theory behind the free pre-kindergarten program was that getting to children, some disadvantaged, before they started kindergarten might give them a leg up once their formal education started – rather than having many fall behind from the beginning and set themselves on a catch-up path for their school careers.
The common-sense logic of the program was undeniable, but there were naysayers who questioned what the success rate would be and the money to be invested.
Now, a report from the much-respected Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute – appropriately named for the late, revered president of the University of North Carolina – gives virtually straight A’s to NC Pre-K, which began as More at Four.
The report, which basically cites across-the-board accomplishments as measured by student performance after the completion of Pre-K, ought to encourage state lawmakers, who boosted some expansion of the program this year, to move ahead with full funding for all students who qualify for this program. Because, it works.
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NC Pre-K enrolled 27,019 kids this year, but there are 5,000 on the waiting list.
Here is what researchers with the Institute found: Children who were enrolled in the program made gains in language, literacy, math, general knowledge and social skills into kindergarten. Result: a better performance once they were in school. At the end of kindergarten, for example, the kids from NC Pre-K were better at math and skills that helped them do better in school because they’d learned how to manage their time.
And, kids who’d been in the program did better on standardized tests in language and math at the end of third grade than did children who weren’t in NC Pre-K. Kids for whom English is a second language also showed considerable benefit in picking up skills than did those who were not in the program.
The Institute gave high marks to teachers in the program, with almost all of them having college degrees and most had special licenses recognizing expertise in training of children at birth through kindergarten. The Institute emphasized that the high level of the qualify of instruction was vital to the success.
Susan Perry-Manning, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, noted the report in calling NC Pre-K “a high return on investment for our state,” and that’s certainly the case. She said such a program can reduce costs in education later, presumably referring to the need for remedial classes.
So here, then, is something the Republicans and Democrats can wholeheartedly support – and should. At the next opportunity, let’s see legislative leaders from both parties take the vow to fully fund NC Pre-K for all eligible students, from now on. It works. We’ve got the proof.