EdNC.org Interviews Smart Start CEO

… read EdNC correspondent Katy Clune’s full story Closing the Gaps: Smart Start of Forsyth County  as part of EdNC’s on going series Focus on Forsyth

On February 1, EdNC’s Katy Clune sat down with SSFC’s CEO Larry Vellani. Follow the full conversation below. For further information about EdNC’s feature series, Focus on Forsyth, visit EdNC’s Focus on Forsyth.

EdNC: On the subject of relationships. What advice would you offer to a community who is attempting to foster a network among its early childhood education services? (This is clearly one of Winston-Salem’s greatest assets)

.. overlook no one, recognize and embrace the value of the participation of a diversity of opinion; then, once you have folks gathered  around the table, support active listening skills and terrific meeting management … it’s as much about creating the space in which people can participate, and creating a culture of inclusiveness & transparency, so that folks feel respected, feel they know what’s going on, feel that their concerns & perspectives are taken into account, and that the group is rallied around the same, strong, parent-&-child-centered agenda …

– EdNC: What kind of programs/services does Smart Start support that touch multiple generations? (Reach out and Read is one of them, for example)

… with our own staff, of course, our ROR & ABCD programs, our classroom field work, our educator scholarship program through our offices and our itinerant instructor partnership with Forsyth Tech, as well as our own parent engagement & training through our family scholarship program and our subcontractors at Imprints Cares & Work Family Resource Center … and Help Me Grow is an exciting, transgenerational program in its early stages of initiation …

– EdNC: Are there lessons learned at Smart Start of Forsyth County you think can be applied in other counties?

… Larry engaging at the Reggio Emilia exhibit “The Wonder of Learning” at Northgate Mall in Durham, NC, January through May … for more info, visit https://www.northgatemall.com/event/wonder-of-learning-exhibit/

listen to the parents, the teachers and the providers about what they need and want … have a big table and don’t be afraid, don’t back away from asking tough questions to get at deeper understanding and deeper consensus, based upon the valuable experience and insight of each of the players … and in 21st century North America, regardless of the region, state or province, that means lifting up equity, examining privilege, understanding the continuum of opportunities and access that feed the gaps we bemoan … it is no accident that some parts of our educational system are doing great and others are languishing … it’s a system: value in value out, garbage in, garbage out—and I’m not talking about people when I say garbage …

– EdNC: Why is inter-generation support important?

… if by inter-generational you mean programs that provide opportunity for children and adults at the same time, as part of a family system, then doing so keeps us aligned with Mother Nature and in sync with ourselves as social animals … simply put: working with the entire family is nature’s way, it’s the guarantee of the most successful outcomes for the kids and adults long term …

– EdNC: Why is early childhood education so vital to brain development?


… Larry engaging at the Reggio Emilia exhibit “The Wonder of Learning” at Northgate Mall in Durham, NC, January through May … for more info, visit https://www.northgatemall.com/event/wonder-of-learning-exhibit/

… as walking and running and tumbling, with sufficient rest, is fundamental to physical development, so providing enriching, serve-and-return environments is key to how the human brain develops … nurture launches nature … early ed is about nurturing the entire child within a safe, healthy, stimulating human and natural environment … when a child is fortunate to be positioned in that way, his or her brain takes off … I believe as a society we owe every child the opportunity for that kind of start … in failing one child, we fail all of us …

– EdNC: What is one of the challenges in your work, and how do you get around it?

… summoning your best thoughts in the moment for a camera … 😉 … more seriously, the greatest challenge is the oppressive, suffocating power of poverty, and our inability as a social and economic community to maximize market return on human capital with the same spare-no-expense commitment that we seem to approach maximizing return on financial capital …and how do I deal with it? … I have limited control, in the short run, on gross economic inequalities that result in the grinding poverty in our midst … I do frequently have to deal with channeling my own sense of urgency for change with an awareness of the privilege that I enjoy to be able to help create & lead change … everyone is not at the same level of understanding or same level of passion for the opportunities for progress that I and others see around us … how do I seek to meet & be in tune with folks where they are at in the moment, and, at the same time, know that I’m in the business to help people move toward the goals we truly do share …that’s often my greatest challenge each day … and, believe me, I’m a work in progress and working on it … with the support and patience of my staff, my board, and other allies and mentors in the community … but, in the end, real, lasting change can only move at the speed of trust …

– EdNC: What motivates you to keep striving when the work gets tough?” 

… my sense that people have struggled long & hard on my behalf to help fearlessly clear the way for me in my early childhood & youth &

What’s buzzin’ with Don Quixote & Sancho Panza on Larry’s desk?

into young adulthood … and that people did the same for my parents & their parents before them … and they did so, because they believed I had something to contribute to the world … I’m here to make a difference, not to be indifferent … and as long as I think I’ve got the energy & passion to do that professionally in the early childhood arena  then I’ll be at this post … and when the time for change comes, I hope I’ve made this post & this organization & this community a bit better place to be for the folks who come after me …


Two brief video excerpts from a later EdNC video-taping at SSFC’s offices …


Brief excerpt on the importance of Birth – 3, and Serve-and-Return Relationships


… Larry doing his level best to work on serve-and-return with a very patient, youth-volunteer at the SSFC Children’s Area at “Christmas For the City 2016” at the Benton Convention Center in downtown Winston-Salem, Dec 21, 2106 … la música y las historias continúa

Our Teaching Partners coaching program prepares for the 2017-2018 school year!

… a 9-month program for early educators to work one-on-one with a certified coach to improve interactions that impact children’s learning …

Our Teaching Partners is a joint venture of SSFC and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust to develop stronger language and communication skills from birth, by improving the language-development and behavioral- interaction skills of early educators. The centerpiece of the program the MyTeachingPartnerTM (MTP) curriculum, a research-based professional development program that has been proven to boost teacher-child interactions and improve child outcomes.

MTP focuses on teacher’s strengths to enhance CLASS®-related interactions and support positive social and academic outcomes for children. Research shows that teachers who participate in MTP report higher levels of job satisfaction, increased effectiveness of their instructional interactions, and children with MTP teachers show greater gains in language/literacy development and lower levels of problem behavior.

During a 9-month coaching program, MTP teachers will work one-on-one with a certified coach to improve their interactions that impact children’s learning. Using video from teacher’s own classrooms and the CLASS framework, coaches provide individualized feedback and support through structured observation cycles. MTP teachers spend two to three hours every two weeks engaging in 5-step coaching cycles during the program: 5 StepMTP Coaching Model

To learn more about how to participate in MTP, please contact our MTP coaches:

Jib Chattrabhuti JibC@smartstart-fc.org, or
Catherine Burke CatherineB@smartstart-fc.org

Click on the following link to download an informational flyer on the program: MTP Flyer 2017-2018_Final

Early voting has begun and your vote counts!

… one area in which we truly have a consensus as a polity is investing in early education …

When considering candidates and referenda this fall, keep in mind that we are the only voice our children have.

In this mercurial campaign season, one thing remains constant: voters want Congress and the next president to work together to make quality early childhood education more accessible and affordable.img_6030

The annual national poll by the First Five Years Fund shows that early childhood education is one of the best ways for candidates to connect with voters, because it is one of our top priorities ”” regardless of political persuasion. These numbers include 78 percent of Trump supporters and 97 percent of Clinton supporters.

Quality early childhood education is a political winner. In fact, there is overwhelming polling support ”” with little opposition ”” for a federal plan to help states and local communities provide better access to quality early care ”” particularly for low and moderate-income working families.

Make no mistake: Child care and early education are critical public investments in the success of families and local private enterprise. High quality, affordable child care is a necessary ingredient for working parents to be successful on the job. It is also a primary building block for the fitness of our next generation of employers and employees.

Nearly three-quarters of the electorate support this conclusion: 73 percent favor and only 24 percent oppose such investment ”” 54 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of independents, 91 percent of Democrats. Large majorities of key swing-voter groups ”” including 85 percent of Latinos, 79 percent of suburban women, 65 percent of moderate/liberal Republicans, and 58 percent of Republican women ”” all favor investing more in early childhood education from birth to age 5.dsc_0742

How do these findings line up with the work of our state and local elected officials?

The most recent legislative session sent home a multi-million dollar, pre-school backpack, worth just south of $8.5 million ($8,390,345) ”” across the NC Pre-K program, children’s developmental service agencies and the Nurse Family Partnership program ”” along with important, follow-up study committees to bring recommendations forward in 2017 and 2018.

The investments are quite modest, but real, and garnered support across the political spectrum.

Only teacher raises and an additional $34 million toward private vouchers received more. (Is there a voice among the salons for the voucher-subsidy system to support families’ pre-k choices?)

To keep things in perspective, North Carolina’s early education system is yet to recover from the devastating bipartisan cuts in early learning that took place between 2010 and 2012, reducing overall birth-to-5 funding by more than 25 percent, from $381 million to $279 million.

As in so many other endeavors, however, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County may be growing as an innovation hub for early learning.

We know what high quality early learning looks like and how to measure it. We have a limited, but high quality, mixed public-private child-care delivery system, managed by private independent and corporate providers, as well as Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools, made possible through pooling the available federal and state Child Care Development Funds (Social Services), Head Start (Family Services, Inc.), NC Pre-K (Smart Start, Inc.) and Title I (Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools) funds with parental resources.

However, for example among our 4-year-old children, these funds reach only about a quarter of our children. And there is much evidence that perhaps as many as 90 percent of households would place their children in 4-year-old classrooms, if they could afford the $8,000 in tuition costs.

Champions of children and economic development can take some encouragement from the most recent, very cautious restoration in birth-to-five state investment. However, it is not nearly what we need, and critical, local private initiative is stepping up.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust has set aside approximately $2.5 million in annual spending for the next decade in its Great Expectations early education program, which begins at birth. The Reynolds American Foundation is leading a coalition of visionary corporate donors in the ambitious Project Impact to the tune of approximately $6 million annual support in Forsyth County, 4-year-old through third-grade classrooms. That about matches in Forsyth County what the legislature has managed to find for the entire state!

Is this level of private investment in early education sustainable? We doubt it. But advocates plan to work with donors to make the case for greater public commitment ”” local, state and federal ”” to early learning and pre-k funding.

The whole state is watching our local experiment. We cannot continue to short-change our families and young children. We must ensure that innovative local, private-public partnerships help more of our children succeed, our families thrive and our community prosper.

That’s the clear message from most of us to all the candidates: from City Hall to Jones Street to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Much of this post originally appeared in the July 22, 2016 edition of the Winston-Salem Journal, under the title, “On the road to recovery and innovation in early education.”


Smart Start “Raising Forsyth” Breakfast Celebrates a Generation of Progress

… on behalf of local children, and their families and educators …

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                   30 March 2016

Smart Start “Raising Forsyth” Breakfast Celebrates a Generation of Progress for Local Children and Families

Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc. (SSFC) will host its 20th Anniversary Breakfast, “Raising Forsyth,” on Tuesday April 12 at Bridger Field House at the BB&T Field on Deacon Drive in Winston-Salem.

Michelle Kennedy, WXII 12 News, will host the program that will include testimonials from professionals and community members, and the release of SSFC’s 20th anniversary report, “Raising Forsyth.”

“Raising Forsyth–our children, our quality, our eyes to a better future,” according to board chair Elizabeth Dampier, “has been the story of our first 20 years. And it remains our compass for the future!”

Larry Vellani, SSFC’s chief executive officer, shared, “We’ve been busy reaching out to all of our past board chairs and executive directors, hoping they can join us for the morning ceremonies.” He continued, “our list of past CEO’s and CVO’s is a who’s who of local community and early education leaders, including April Broadway, Chuck Kraft, Dean Clifford, Doug Punger, Jo Ellen Carson, Joel Leander, Karatha Scott, Mark Tucker, Michael Lischke, Nigel Alston, Paula McCoy, Rebecca Shore, Robert Donnan, Rodessa Mitchell, Ronald Montaquila, and Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin.”

In addition to Dampier, Kennedy, and Vellani, program presenters include Anna Miller-Fitzwater, MD, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center; Phygenia Young, EdS, Chair of Human Services Technology and Teacher Education at Forsyth Technical Community College; Sabrina Hinton, EdS, owner, North Point Academy, Inc., and TLC Learning Academy, Inc.; and Sharon Pinkney, owner, Kidz Zone Learning Center, Inc.

Originally incorporated in 1995 as the Forsyth Early Education Partnership, SSFC provides tools, training, resources, and leadership to help families help children thrive, while rallying the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County community to build and sustain an affordable, equitable, high quality system of early childhood development and learning for all children.

As a partnering organization with the North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc. (NCPC) in Raleigh, NC, SSFC is the only private organization in Forsyth County, charged by state statute, to care about the quality and progress of the community’s early-learning system.

For further information, as well as information on tickets and sponsorships, visit www.SmartStart-FC.org, or contact Jackie Lofton, 336. 714.4349.

And our fantastic corporate and individual sponsors!KaplanLogo1

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and the Dampier, Punger & Vellani Families, and the SSFC Staff!

Ready to CELEBRATE? … Time to PURCHASE your tickets! …

… 20 years to celebrate and a future to believe in … Purchase tickets on-line here … Your purchase helps support the critical operational needs of our partnership …

During North Carolina’s Week of the Young Child, join the Board, Staff, and Friends of Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc. for Invite Info Panel

Raising Forsyth
Tuesday, April 12
Bridger Field House
7:30 a.m.

Purchase your tickets on-line here!

For more information about sponsorships, visit Raising Forsyth Anniversary Breakfast Sponsorships and Raising Forsyth Sponsorship Letter Page_2Raising Forsyth Anniversary Breakfast Sponsorships

Watch this space for more information about our upcoming festivities!

A celebration of 20 years of making a difference in the lives of our community’s children, and their children!

  • Special  Guests:
  • Michelle Kennedy, WXII 12 News
  • Cindy Watkins, President, N.C. Partnership for Children, Inc.
  • Recognition of our First Generation of Volunteer & Professional Leaders
  • The view forward into our next generation of commitment to
    • our children succeeding, and
    • our families having the resources they need … to help …
    • our children thrive!

Seating is limited!

Your purchase helps support the critical operational needs of our partnership!

Attention, Parents! Atención, Padres! Time to apply for the 2016 – 2017 NC Pre-K program

… Aplicaciones de NC Pre-K para el año escolar 2016-2017 ya están disponibles … NC Pre-K applications for the 2016-2017 school year now available …Prek Flyer Spanish Version 2016 (Color)

It’s time! If you would like your child to participate in the NC Pre-K program, please visit “Apply Online” for more information.

Es tiempo! Si desea que su hijo participe en el programa NC Pre-K, por favor visite “Solicitud en Linea“ para obtener más información. Prek Flyer Spanish Version 2016 (Color)

And now a word from Alice ..


… knowing ourselves and choosing the road forward …

Excerpts from Larry Vellani’s address to the Family Services, Inc., corporate family at its annual staff development day, Monday November 9. Thank you again, Family Services, Inc., President & CEO, Bob Feikema et al, for the invite! We could not be prouder to be your partner in progress for the children and families of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County!

I bring you today Greetings and two Messages from Wonderland, and its First Citizen, Alice!

‘Who am I, that’s the first question …’DSC_0987

… and …

‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road can take you there …’

We know who we are: One Community, Many Children

We know we are partisan: on the side of the children and their families whom we credit with potentials, intelligence, rights, and culture.

We know our road, one of:

  • Careful listening
  • Passionate friendships
  • Fortunate encounters

Furthermore, our road is heading toward:

  • A politics of the early years that holds together ideas & actions, quantity & quality.
  • An understanding that our world is changing: it is no longer a world of islands, and intervals, and spaces, and oceans, and mountains, and valleys, but … a world that is a web–a world in which we are all interconnected, and in which what affects one of us affects all of us!

The Universal Pre-K Effort underway in Our Community purports to make it possible–for any family that desires it–to have a high quality, early learning, center-based experience for their child in the year prior to Kindergarten.

We’ve already hit the road together””now let’s keep moving forward!


For more information about the Universal Pre-K Work Group, contact Larry at 336.714.4365 or LarryV@SmartStart-FC.org; or Bob Feikema at 336.722-8173 or BFeikema@FSiFamily.org.

KBR Trust invests in SSFC’s My Teaching Partner Program

expanding teaching and learning staff by three professionals …

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust of Winston-Salem, NC announced on Monday May 11 that it plans to invest almost $200,000 over the next two years in SSFC’s My Teaching Partner Program.Flag4th-1

My Teaching Partner is a unique joint venture between SSFC and the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to develop stronger language and communication skills from birth, by improving the language-development and behavioral- interaction skills of early educators.

A key component of the program is the use of the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS).

The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) is an evidence-based measure of the quality of behavioral interactions among the teachers and students, and a powerful tool to assist coaches and teachers in identifying specific behaviors to adapt or improve in classroom interactions, “directly associated with children’s performance.”

The CLASS focuses on the quality of interactional processes in the classroom. CLASS differs from other measurement tools that focus on the content of the physical environment, available materials, or a specific curriculum. For CLASS, the physical environment, including materials and curriculum, matter in the context of how teachers put them to use in their interactions with children.

“The CLASS dimensions are based on developmental theory and research suggesting that interactions between students and adults are the primary mechanism of student development and learning.” (Greenberg, Domitrovich, & Bumbarger, 2001; Hamre & Pianta, 2007; Morrison & Connor, 2002; Pianta, 2006; Rutter & Maughan, 2002) Two major studies of state-funded preschool programs provide data included in the Technical Appendix to the CLASS and CLASS-T manuals. (Robert Pianta, Karen LaParo, Bridget Hamre, “Classroom Assessment Scoring System Pre-K Manual”, Brookes Publishing, 2008. p.1)

Program Components
Prior to providing coaching and training, SSFC and FPG will conduct a pre-assessment using either the CLASS or CLASS-T, as appropriate, to establish a baseline of performance among participating teacher and assistant teacher.  SSFC’s coaches will use the results of the pre-assessment as an instructional tool to develop lead educator-specific, technical assistance plans.

Teachers and coaches will evaluate progress through the use of video clips that document teacher-child interactions and implementation of specific strategies.  Teachers will keep a journal to reflect on the process and their progress.

Once a month, teachers will complete a short survey to assess their own progress on the technical assistance plan, as well as usefulness of the coaching sessions.  The survey responses will serve as a formative evaluation and suggest on-going adjustments in the coaching protocols.

Upon completion of the nine-month coaching program, CLASS post-assessment scores will be compared with the pre-assessments of lead and assistant teachers.

Professional Learning Communities
Teachers will participate in self-directed, professional learning communities (PLC) without direct coaching.  The primary objective of the PLC is to promote collaborative learning among early childhood professionals in implementing key concepts associated with teacher-child interactions. The members of the professional peer group will provide support and mentoring for each other.  The members of the cohort in year one will continue in the PLC along with the teachers who enter the program in year two.

FPG and SSFC will gather outcomes, comparing teachers’ reports of their perceptions of their knowledge and skill in supporting language and communication development among infants and toddlers before and after participating in one of FPG’s large-group MTBT trainings prior to the selection of the cohort members.

FPG and SSFC will work together to assess the quality of language interactions, focusing on examining the dimensions of “Facilitated Exploration and Early Language Support,” and the dimensions of “Facilitation of Learning and Development,” “Quality of Feedback,” and “Language Modeling,” as those dimensions reflect various characteristics of the quality of teacher-child language interactions.

In addition, FPG and SSFC will use the Coaching Rating Scale to measure the coaches’ fidelity to the coaching model of planning, observing, practicing, reflecting, and discussing feedback in two ways.

(1)      The coaches’ monthly logs, describing their interactions with teachers, and the monthly coaching meetings. The logs and the meetings will help identify any challenges coaches are facing in supporting teachers and allow for problem-solving with the coaches to optimize teacher-coach interactions, thus providing teachers with the best support possible to engage in effective language interactions with children.

(2)      Use of the Coaching Rating Scale (CRS) (Rush & Shelden, 2011) to examine how consistently coaches are using the coaching model when working with teachers.

As a two-year, two-cohort program, the information gathered from the first cohort, e.g. teacher perceptions of knowledge and skill, observed teacher-child language interactions, coaching logs, Coaching Rating Scale, etc., to make value-added adjustments in the program. (Neblett-Gardner, 2015)

The State of Forsyth County
There are 111 licensed childcare centers in Forsyth County serving 6,498 children from birth to five years. In the course of a business cycle, our teaching and learning specialists work with approximately 40 (44%) of the centers to improve the quality of learning environments through coaching, training, and financial incentives””approximately 600 of the almost 1400 early educators in Forsyth County. All of the centers receiving technical assistance serve children who are receiving means-tested, childcare scholarships through SSFC or DSS.

The current system of measuring program quality in licensed centers focuses primarily upon structural components of the classroom, such as number and type of learning materials, daily schedules and routines, and classroom hygiene and furnishings.

Teachers who adopt specific language and gesture skills:

  • ensure that each child enjoys warm, supportive relationships among teachers and peers;
  • ensure that there are frequent displays of positive affect by the teacher that include smiling, laughter, and displays of enthusiasm;
  • provide frequent positive verbal and physical communication with the children that include physical affection and positive expectations; and
  • model for and guide fellow teachers and children in consistent demonstrations of respect for one another through eye contact, respectful language, and cooperation and sharing.An important research finding indicates that teachers in average quality classrooms had the strongest scores on behavioral/social-emotional support, but low scores associated with “engaged support for learning.” (“Observed Quality and Psychometric Properties of the CLASS-T in Early Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey,” Bandel et al., May 2014) That finding suggests that technical assistance focused on structural environmental elements alone is not enough to ensure that teachers consciously interact with children in ways that facilitate more meaningful advances in children’s cognitive, emotional, and language development.Research shows that training followed by coaching can offer teachers the support needed to improve performance and increase competence and confidence (Rush & Shelden, 2011), which enables teachers to successfully implement newly learned skills and practices. (Fixsen et al., 2005; Joyce & Showers, 2002)

Employment opportunities
We are now accepting resumes for up to three (3) new Teaching and Learning Specialists positions:

  • One (1) full-time position to provide mentoring/coaching and classroom assessments to support early childhood educators in Forsyth County.   This position requires a master’s degree, and current B-K license. Experience with mentoring/evaluation through DCDEE/EESLPD and knowledge of Foundations of Early Learning and Development (NCFELD) is desired.
  • Two (2) positions are part time (30-35 hrs. /wk.) to provide coaching and mentoring using the CLASS assessment. These positions require a BA/BS in early childhood. A master’s degree and B-K license is preferred.   Knowledge of DCDEE star-rated licensing and ERS assessments is required.   Experience working in an early childhood classroom setting and/or working with childcare providers is required.
  • All three positions will require excellent writing and speaking skills.

Send a letter of introduction and resume to: Smart of Forsyth County, Inc., 7820 North Point Blvd., Suite 200, Winston-Salem, NC 27106, Attn: Jenny Whitley, Director, Teaching & Learning Services.

For more information, contact Jenny Whitley, Director, Teaching & Learning Services, JennyW@SmartStart-FC.org or 336.714.4344.


Time to apply for the 2015-2016 NC Pre-K program

NC Pre-K applications for the 2015-2016 school year now available …

It’s time! If you would like your child to participate in the NC Pre-K program, please visit “Apply Online” for more information. 34c1b149178aa6170c002dd898f4f860

 Aplicaciones de NC PreK para el año escolar 2015-2016 ya está disponible

Es el momento! Si desea que su hijo participe en el programa NC Pre-K, por favor visite Solicitud en LineaPrek Flyer English Feb 2015 para obtener más información.Prek Flyer Spanish Feb 2015

New NC Poll Finds Major Support for Early Childhood Education

… David Plyler, Forsyth County Commissioner, publishes local op-ed piece citing voter support for action at state and federal levels …


From the left: Grandson Jack Register with Grandfather David Plyler

A new non-partisan North Carolina poll finds that North Carolina voters view early childhood education as a critical issue in the state and across the nation. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support investments in early childhood programs in the state – including expanding access to Smart Start, Pre-K, teacher training and home visiting programs.

544a862293ade.imageForsyth County Commissioner, David Plyler, penned an op-ed piece highlighting the significance of these findings, which appeared in the Sunday October 26 edition of the Winston-Salem Journal.

More than four in five (83%) of North Carolina voters believe that investments in early childhood programs will benefit North Carolina’s economy in the short and long term. Voters ranked ensuring children get a strong start as a top priority for policymakers, second only to jobs and the economy and well ahead of reducing the tax burden on families. The poll was conducted by the bipartisan team of Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research for the First Five Years Fund and the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation

The poll comes on the heels of unprecedented state action on early childhood education across the nation -in red and blue states alike. In North Carolina, Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed a 2014-2015 fiscal year budget, which provides an additional $5 million for the state’s public prekindergarten program, NC Pre-K. Only 23 percent of 4-year-olds in the state are currently enrolled in NC Pre-K. Voters want more. Three-quarters said they support expanding access to the NC Pre-K and Smart Start programs so that more children in the state can participate in them.

Voters are very concerned that children get a strong start in school and see high quality early childhood education as the answer. In addition to expanding access to Pre-K and Smart Start, 88 percent want North Carolina to invest in training and classroom resources so that all pre-school and early elementary school teachers are able to teach each child in a way that addresses their individual needs and ensures they have a strong start in reading and school.

Flag4th-1Nearly three-quarters of North Carolina voters (71 percent) support greater federal investment in early childhood education if it increased the deficit in the short term but paid for itself in the long term by improving children’s education, health and economic situations. Earlier this year, a national poll commissioned by The First Five Years Fund found that 71 percent of voters – including 60 percent of Republicans – support greater federal investments in early childhood education.

Research from Nobel Prize-winning economist Professor James Heckman documents the outstanding economic return on investment from early childhood education. Investing in high-quality early childhood education for disadvantaged children from birth to age 5 yields a 7-10 percent return – per child, per year – through improved education, health, social and economic outcomes as well as the reduced need for social spending.