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Privatizing NC Pre-K would disproportionately impact rural, high-poverty communities

Recent considerations by the NC General Assembly’s House Select Committee on Early Childhood Education Improvement to explore privatizing North Carolina’s Pre-K program could severely limit access to the program in rural, high-poverty areas, a new report cautions.

Using county-level data on the location of Pre-K program slots, rural and urban designations of counties, and poverty and child poverty rates, a report by the NC Budget & Tax Center – a project of the NC Justice Center – finds that a majority (58) of North Carolina’s counties rely on public schools to host and manage more than half of their Pre-K slots. Data reveals that only 6 of these counties are not rural.

Moreover, 17 counties – Alleghany, Bertie, Bladen, Clay, Dare, Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Hyde, Jones, Moore, Perquimans, Polk, Tyrrell, Warren, Washington, and Watauga – rely exclusively (or 100%) on public schools to house their Pre-K program slots. All 17 of these counties are rural and a majority of them of are also high-poverty.

“It is not a coincidence that public schools play such a key role in providing infrastructure for Pre-K classrooms in rural, impoverished counties,” notes Louisa Warren, Policy Advocate with the NC Budget & Tax Center and author of the report. “Unfortunately, these counties often don’t have an extensive network of high-quality private child care providers, and public schools are essential to making Pre-K an accessible opportunity in these communities.”

The report includes a county-by-county table that’s a quick reference for the number of Pre-K slots, the percentage of slots in public schools, and poverty and child poverty rates.

“What’s clear from this data is that prohibiting public schools from managing and hosting Pre-K slots could have a disproportionate impact on rural, high?poverty counties in the state,” Warren said. “Privatization could mean a majority of North Carolina’s counties would have limited access to Pre-K, negatively affecting children’s education in the short and long terms.”

To read the full report, click here.