BTC BRIEF: Reaching Poor Children - North Carolina’s Pre-K program and its "at-risk" income eligibility standard

By Louisa Warren
Policy Advocate, Budget & Tax Center
March 2012


  • Lowering the “at-risk” income eligibility standard for children and their families seeking enrollment in NC Pre-K to 100% of the federal poverty level would result in at least 9,400 children no longer being eligible for the program.
  • The North Carolina Living Income Standard is a more accurate measure than the federal poverty measure of economic hardship among families and finds that for a family of one parent and one child, it takes an annual income equivalent to 238% of the federal poverty level to afford basic expenses.
  • Quality early learning and child care programs can be prohibitively expensive and for a family of three at 100% of the federal poverty level (earning $18,530 annually), child care can eat up to 40% of their income.
  • Investments in early education programs such as NC Pre-K can yield high learning outcomes for enrolled children, long-term earnings gains, contribute to economic development and have been proven to have a high return on investment.
  • As a result, many states are moving to universal or near-universal prekindergarten programs and North Carolina’s neighbors Florida and West Virginia have state-funded universal preschool education programs, and Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana all serve children in their preschool education programs who reside in families with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level.
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