North Carolina is ranked No. 1 in the United States in the quality of our pre-K program. The problem? We are ranked 41st in enrollment in that program.
These rankings, just released from U.S. News and World Report, are a concern to North Carolina businesses. Why? Because participation in high-quality pre-K lays the foundation for getting young students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.
Third-grade reading proficiency is a milestone in a student’s education continuum, often determining whether that student will graduate from high school and enroll in post-secondary education or training. It is a key component to creating the skilled workforce that companies across our state will need.
Unfortunately, we have much work to do when only 38 percent of North Carolina fourth graders are proficient in reading.
The importance of early literacy skills is the focus of a group of North Carolina business leaders, including myself, urging that concrete steps be taken to increase third-grade reading proficiency. No other state has implemented all of the steps necessary to achieve that goal, as outlined in a new report from the Business Roundtable, “Why Reading Matters and What to Do about It.”
North Carolina should be the first to do so.
I am pleased that Gov. Roy Cooper has heard our voices that reading proficiency is a state economic priority. His just-released proposed state budget includes an increase in the number of children who will have access to NC Pre-K – our high-quality program for at-risk 4-year-olds.
We business leaders support the goals of “Read to Achieve” legislation passed in 2012 that aims to ensure North Carolina students are reading proficiently at the end of third grade. We are urging the creation of a comprehensive, aligned birth-through-age-8 system, focused on keeping children on track to reading proficiency.
NC Pre-K is a crucial part of that system. Extensive studies of this program confirm it is the foundation on which literacy skills are built. According to research from Duke University, participation in NC Pre-K increases reading and math skills; reduces placements in special education classes; and decreases students being held back a grade.
Duke University’s recent 13-year study of one million children, followed through fifth grade, who participated in NC Pre-K also found that these positive impacts do not “fade out” over time. To the contrary, they either hold steady or significantly increase.
And because it is such a high-quality program, NC Pre-K will generate a net savings over time, according to Duke, because of the significant reduction in special education placements. Now that is a wise investment.
According to the General Assembly, we currently have 29,400 children in NC Pre-K. However, more than 36,000 eligible children are not able to participate. Funding has been increased each year since 2011, and it was increased again last year – but for only 260 students. We can do better than that.
PNC Bank has been a strong proponent of quality early learning programs. For more than 13 years, through our “Grow Up Great” initiative, we have dedicated $350 million to help prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life.
I appreciate the dialogue my business leader colleagues and I have had with Cooper and the leadership of the General Assembly. We look forward to working with Sen. Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and other members of the General Assembly to create a comprehensive early learning system that includes a meaningful increase in the number of students with access to NC Pre-K.
We are No. 1 on the quality of our NC Pre-K program. Let’s get there on enrollment, too.
Jim Hansen of Raleigh is PNC Bank’s regional president, Eastern Carolinas.