October 19, 2012
By Chris Hill
Governor Bev Perdue recently discovered money in the budget of the Division of Health and Human Services to fund 6,300 slots for the North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program (NCPK). The move put North Carolina closer to being in compliance with a Court of Appeals ruling that held all eligible at-risk four-year olds should be enrolled in NCPK.
It is essential to the future of our state to have children ready to learn as soon as they reach the kindergarten door. Studies show the first 2,000 days of a child’s life, from birth to kindergarten, are critical in the life of the child and that early childhood programs are essential for success.
North Carolina’s early childhood programs are not glorified babysitting at taxpayer expense; on the contrary, social science research demonstrates how important these programs are. The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute published a study in 2010 that found pre-k improves the academic achievement of low-wealth children and narrows the socioeconomic achievement gap. The Frank Porter Graham Institute’s 2011 study found that pre-k education improved language, literacy and math skills for at-risk students.
For those who find the bottom line important, James Heckman, Nobel laureate in economics, found that high-quality early education programs provided a 6% to 10% return on investment per year. Investments in early childhood programs is money well-spent for all children. In 2011, Duke University researchers found that in jurisdictions with early childhood programs that third-grade End of Grade test scores improved even for the students did not participate in the programs.
It is imperative that North Carolina fund early childhood programs. It makes good financial sense and it makes even better moral sense.