Wake County Announces Creation of New Pre-K Program for 3-Year-Olds

Two children smiling

The Wake County Board of Commissioners today announced the creation of Wake ThreeSchool, an innovative new Pre-K program designed to give underserved 3-year-olds access to quality early education when brain building is at its peak.

“Children who have access to high-quality Pre-K programs are better prepared to enter school and succeed in the future,” said Matt Calabria, chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. “We want to make sure that every child, regardless of financial or social barriers, gets off to the best possible start.”

Wake ThreeSchool, which would be administered by Wake County Smart Start, addresses needs of children who are too old for state-funded infant/toddler services and too young for NC Pre-K. Comparison studies suggest that two years of Pre-K are better than one in terms of both immediate and longer-term benefits.

It's clear that Wake County Smart Start’s Pre-K strategies work – 91% of NC Pre-K graduates measure ready for school using early literacy assessment tools. Wake ThreeSchool deepens these readiness outcomes.

“We share the county commissioners’ vision of creating a strong pathway for success in education,” said Gayle Headen, executive director of Wake County Smart Start. “Funding ThreeSchool has lasting benefits for individual children, for our K-12 system and for our larger community.”

Wake County’s Commitment
Wake ThreeSchool would target 3-year-olds whose families are within 200% of the poverty line. There are more than 4,000 children in Wake County who would be eligible for the program, approximately 2,400 of which are not currently being served by existing programs.

In launching Wake ThreeSchool, the county is embarking on a long-term plan to serve the county’s most underserved 3-year-olds. The program would be phased in over several years. In the next fiscal year, Wake County plans to invest $350,000 to launch Wake ThreeSchool. This will fund a year of program planning and capacity building, including community assessment, curriculum development and research.

Classrooms will then open in the fall of 2022, with limited enrollments of up to 100 children who will attend school at high-quality childcare sites that are rated 4- and 5-star by the state’s Division of Child Development and Early Education.

By the third year, the investment could grow to as much as $1.4 million annually as the county adds positions, starts serving students and evaluates operations. As the program expands beyond that, so will the number of locations and available seats.

“We are committed to supporting early childhood care and education programs that prepare young children for lifelong learning and overall well-being,” said Commissioner Susan Evans. “Giving our most vulnerable children access to educational opportunities early on increases their outcomes throughout their entire education.”

ThreeSchool Details and Timeline
Children attending Wake ThreeSchool will experience play-based academic prep for 6.5 hours a day. Teachers will have advanced training and work with a special curriculum tailored to each child’s need.

The benefits don’t end when the school day does. Children in Wake ThreeSchool will be assessed for needs and provided access to related services from partner organizations, including possible after-school childcare until parents get off work.

Importance of Early Learning
Quality early learning produces permanent boosts in IQ and social-emotional skills. Brain building is at its peak in early childhood, particularly in year three. Children enter school better prepared and are less likely to repeat a grade or be referred to special education.

It also has a spillover effect where children outside these programs benefit, as well. When children are ready for Kindergarten on Day 1, that reduces remediation time for teachers – so the whole class can move forward faster.

Long-term benefits include lower rates of crime and teen pregnancy, higher lifetime earnings and better health outcomes. Pre-K participants are also more likely to go to a doctor, receive immunizations and screenings, and get dental care.

In addition, quality childcare pays off by helping parents establish careers and grow income. Income gains over the first five years pay for the entire cost of comprehensive early childhood development. Early education is an investment that pays for itself and grows the economy.

Board of Commissioners
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Press Release