Red Hat, SAS leaders push for more slots for students in NC Pre-K

Posted January 17, 2019 7:27 a.m. EST
Updated January 17, 2019 6:30 p.m. EST

In response to a study out of Duke University that shows pre-kindergarten helps children succeed at least through eighth grade, a group of North Carolina CEOs has pulled together a series of recommendations to give that advantage to more students.

As a parent, SAS CEO Jim Goodnight knows the importance of early reading for his children. As a business owner, he sees how it can lead to a more skilled workforce and less poverty.

"I know my first daughter was reading when she was 3," he said. "We would sit and point to words and I would read them and ask her to pronounce them as well."

Studies confirm that teaching children to read at an early age sets them up for greater success in elementary school.

Across North Carolina, about 30,000 children participate in the NC Pre-K program, which focuses specifically on educating at-risk 4-year-olds.

Teachers in the program have to be certified in early reading, a criteria that, Goodnight says, has been recognized across the country for success.

"They have to go through a test to verify that they know how to teach reading to young children, and that is what makes our program the best in the country," Goodnight says.

Goodnight cites a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research, or NIEER, which says about 33,000 more children are eligible for NC Pre-K, but lack access.

"I think it's extremely important we help kids from lower income families get started right in kindergarten," he says.

The CEOs group has already seen progress.

Two years ago, they saw the state legislature create an additional 3,500 slots for children to get into NC Pre-K.

"One of our goals is to push the legislature and the governor to make sure we keep expanding," Goodnight says.

He is passionate about Pre-K as a path out of poverty.

"There's only one way that we're going to get kids out of poverty as they grow up, and that's to make sure they have the best possible education," he says. "It's the only way out of poverty."

About 100 elementary schools in Wake County have prekindergarten classrooms. Nearly 200 pre-K slots have been added over the past two years in the district.

Not all school districts had the same growth.

A Duke University study found that when funding for the state's prekindergarten program increased two years ago, 44 counties declined any new expansion funding.

Last year, 36 counties declined.

One Raleigh parent is pushing to enroll his preschool-aged son in pre-K this fall.

“He’s learning now, and this is going to help him learn even more,” Mark Baltimore said. “This will keep him on track and keep him ahead of the curve.”