Financing a Pre-K Expansion in Durham: Lessons from Other Communities

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Dodge, Kenneth A

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A growing body of evidence suggests that public investment in high-quality preschool programs improves school readiness, and produces significant and lasting impacts on children across a wide variety of outcomes. Research suggests that the impact of high quality preschool services is especially robust among children from disadvantaged backgrounds, including low-income children and English Language Learners. Analysis of Census data suggests that there is an unmet need for preschool services in Durham County, North Carolina. Of the approximately 2,000 4-year-olds in Durham living below 200% of the Federal Poverty level, only about 800 received preschool services during the 2015-2016 school year. This suggests that there is an unmet need of approximately 1,200 low-income 4-year-olds in Durham each year. Durham elected officials charged the Finance Subcommittee of the Durham Community Preschool Task Force with providing information about financial models that can support preschool expansion and eventually universal preschool in Durham. This Masters Project supports the Subcommittee’s efforts by presenting case studies and analysis of how communities around the country funded preschool expansions at the local level. The goal of this effort is to develop insights for the Task Force drawn from the real experiences of communities that are leading the effort to expand access to high-quality preschool ahead of state and federal efforts. This paper is broken down into several sections. Chapters one through three introduce the challenge facing Durham, address contextual factors affecting preschool access in Durham and North Carolina more broadly, and overview preschool financing strategies available to local governments. Chapters four through eight provide analysis of five case studies of communities that increased access to preschool with local funds. Findings are based on in-person and phone interviews and analysis of primary and secondary reports. Each case focuses on a unique financing strategy and identifies barriers and keys to success. Two communities studied (Denver and Boston) have pursued universal programs, while the other three (Forsyth, Wake and Salt Lake County) have expanded programs in a targeted manner. These include:

  1. Salt Lake County, UT – Pay for Success
  2. Denver, CO – Sales Tax and Sliding Scale Tuition Payments
  3. Forsyth County, NC – Philanthropy
  4. Wake County, NC – County Budget
  5. Boston, MA: Mixed formula (with emphasis on district funds) The paper concludes with implications for successful funding strategies in Durham.





Quarton, Katherine (2017). Financing a Pre-K Expansion in Durham: Lessons from Other Communities. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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