Wake County, NC

County Budget

The 2015 budget for Wake County included $325,728 to expand NC Pre-K classrooms to serve more children. By 2017, the budget was increased to $488,600 with another $100,000 dollar-for-dollar match to encourage community investment.

Wake County 4-Year-Olds Eligible for NC Pre-K


Percent of Eligible Children in NC Pre-K in FY 2014-15


Eligible Children Served by Other Publicly Funded Prekindergarten


Eligible Children Not Being Served


Early Learning Lifetime Benefits Not Well Understood

Key stakeholders were o en unfamiliar with research and evidence regarding the substantial lifetime benefits of high quality early childhood education.

Shifting Political Sands

Change in leadership in both elected bodies and professional staff (Wake County and school system) necessitated education of new stakeholders and cultivation of new champions.

Early Learning Not Prioritized

Many who are supportive of early childhood education did not necessarily see it as a top funding priority.

Advocates Lacked Coordination

Community education advocates were united in support of early childhood investments, but there was a lack of coordination in terms of strategy and tactics employed by various groups to achieve the same ends.

Getting to Action

The effort began over a decade ago when Wake SmartStart and Wake County Public Schools partnered to educate the public and community leaders about the importance of providing young children from economically disadvantaged families with high quality early learning experiences.

This collaborative effort to engage community leaders on the importance of early childhood policies and investments resulted in a historic action. For the first time, the Wake County Board of Commissioners pledged additional dollars to the NC Pre-K program and the School District has agreed to allocate those funds to give more four-year-olds a high quality prekindergarten experience that will prepare them to be successful in school.


With the support of key County Commissioners, Wake County SmartStart presented the County Manager with three options for investment and provided specific numbers for expanded prekindergarten service. The result was that the County included $325,728 to expand NC Pre-K classrooms to serve an additional 144 young children. The additional investments since 2015 now provide access to NC Pre-K to 359 children.

Expanded NC Pre-K classrooms to serve an additional 359 young children.

Keys to Success

Made the case for early childhood investments as a benefit to everyone in the community

Created an ally in the school system by articulating a prekindergarten through 12th grade continuous system

Focused on the child’s experiences and what they needed for lifelong success, instead of specific services

Connected early learning to economic outcomes, participated in conversations about the community’s economic potential and served as an active member of the local Chamber of Commerce

Built relationships with local appointed and elected officials

Recruited local leaders for its Board of Directors