Six years after forming, the Pre-K Priority is calling on local elected and civic leaders to form a community-wide task force to find ways to expand access to high-quality pre-K education.
The Pre-K Priority is a coalition of early childhood professionals who formed in 2014 with the goal of giving every 4-year old an opportunity to enroll in an affordable, high-quality pre-K program.
Today at 5 p.m., several members of the group will speak at a webinar about its new equity report and what the community can do to close the achievement gap.
Panelists will include Louis Finney, the executive director and CEO of Smart Start of Forsyth County; Beth Day-Hairston, chairwoman of the education department at Winston-Salem State University; and Carla Garrett, of the N.C. Department of Instruction’s Office of Early Learning.
The conversation will center on issues of quality and quantity of pre-K education in Forsyth County.
Of the 4,600 4-year olds in the county, about 1,500 are enrolled in publicly funded programs that meet quality standards, such as a ratio of 1 teacher to 10 students; properly licensed lead teachers; and training and professional development for staff, according to Bob Feikema, the president and CEO of Family Services.
“The first order of business for expanding pre-K opportunities in our community is to ensure that our current programs meet high-quality standards,” Feikema said.
One of the pre-K group’s main goals is to improve equity. Citing statistics from Rutgers University, the group reported that enrolling in high-quality pre-K can reduce the achievement gap at kindergarten entry in math by an estimated 45% for African American children and by 78% for Hispanic children, and essentially closes the entire gap in reading for both African American and Hispanic children.
The group is calling for a community-wide task force to make universal pre-K a priority and to advocate for more state and local money.
According to its report, Forsyth County has not invested any money in expanding and improving its pre-K programs. By comparison, Durham County has spent $10 million and Buncombe County has spent $2.2 million.
Feikema noted that Buncombe County found money to improve its pre-K programs by taking money from economic development, seeing a link between job growth and an educated populace.
“Our goal is an intermediate one and it takes a page from other urban counties in North Carolina that have really made progress in terms of expanding high quality pre-K. They had a task force and not just from the early-learning field. We need to bring in business leaders, elected leaders, faith leaders and say, ‘OK, we have all this great information. How do we use this in a way for Forsyth County to move forward,” Feikema said.