Durham’s pre-k offers every child a better chance

A pre-kindergarten class at Primary Colors in Durham on Friday, May 20, 2016.
A pre-kindergarten class at Primary Colors in Durham on Friday, May 20, 2016. Justin Cook

Durham County is laying a foundation of well- being for all of our children. Just last week we launched the website for our groundbreaking Durham PreK program thanks to Child Care Services Association (CCSA), our administrative partner. I hope everyone will check it out at www.durhamprek.org. Our goal is universal access to high quality pre-k education for every 4-year-old in Durham County.

Why is this important? Because research has shown it critical that all children start kindergarten ready to learn and high quality pre-k makes a difference. This is a racial equity issue. Only about 48% of our children start kindergarten ready to learn. When we analyze the data by race, this percentage is lower for black and latinx children and higher for white children. We want 100% of our children ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. This will help our teachers teach and our children experience success from day one.

Why is our Durham Pre K groundbreaking? Thanks to the guidance of our community based Governance Committee, we are implementing a racial equity and systems approach. There are currently 15 providers who are part of Durham PreK and more are in the pipeline. Durham County is investing directly in our early childhood educators and businesses. We are supplementing the salaries of preschool teachers — among the most underpaid educators and care providers in our country — to bring them up to the pay scale of Durham Public School teachers. We are also investing in their professional development, curriculum, ability to attain advanced certifications and supporting the pipeline of educators. In an equally transformative manner, we are offering technical assistance to provider owners. We are investing in the capacity of many local, home grown, often minority owned businesses.

Interested providers can find out more at our website. Parents of any child who turned four as of Aug. 31 can find out how to register too. Durham County is supporting all of our families with this strategic investment. Depending on your income, you will qualify for no fee or a subsidy. Our studies found that middle-income families in Durham also struggle to afford high quality preschool. It is important for all of our children to go to school and learn together.

We know that for every $1 invested in early childhood education there is a $7 rate of return related to academic, behavior, social and emotional outcomes. Durham PreK is part of the pathway to a talented future work force and thriving families. Studies show that children who attend a good early childhood program by age 5 are most likely to have a highly skilled job or attend college by age 21.

We are committed to Durham PreK. Durham Public Schools is planning for pre-k classrooms in all elementary schools. The Board of County Commissioners has invested more than $10 million in high quality pre-k in Durham since 2017 and is dedicating at least one penny on the tax rate for Durham PreK as a budget priority each year.

More than 25% of Durham’s young children live in poverty. This is unacceptable. We know that overall school achievement is linked to poverty rates. We can address underlying historic racial inequities and resulting wealth gaps with a systems change approach. Universal access to high quality pre-k for every four year old will help create equitable access to lifelong learning, success and shared prosperity in Durham.

Wendy Jacobs is chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners.