Wake County, NC

County Budget

​The 2015 budget for Wake County included $325,728 dollars 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. Between 2018 and 2020 the budget ranged from $500,000 dollars to $600,000 dollars. As of 2021, 86 percent of all eligible four-year-olds – 3,500 children – have access to NC Pre-K in Wake County.

Wake County 4-Year-Olds Eligible for NC Pre-K in 2015

Wake County 4-year-olds in NC Pre-K in 2021


Percent of Eligible 4-year-olds in NC Pre-K in FY 2014-2015


Percent of Eligible 4-year-olds in NC Pre-K in FY 2020-2021


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 Smart Start presented the County Manager with options for investment and provided specific numbers for expanded prekindergarten service. The result was a $325,728 investment to expand NC Pre-K classrooms to serve an additional 144 children. Since 2015, the county investments have continued to grow. In 2021, 86% of eligible four-year-olds attended NC Pre-K in Wake County.
  • In April 2021, the Board of Commissioners announced the launching of ThreeSchool, a high-quality child care program for three-year-olds in 2022. The initial investment in 2021 was $350,000 for planning and capacity building.

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