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Publicly funded NC Pre-K seats available now

SALISBURY — Families can sign up for free, publicly funded pre-kindergarten in the county right now.

N.C. Pre-K, a state-funded program that provides free early education for four-year-olds, has more than 300 seats in Rowan County at a mix of private and public sites, including in Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

To apply parents should fill out applications provided by Smart Start Rowan, the agency that manages the local seats. The application is available on Smart Start’s website at rowan-smartstart.org. Families may qualify based on income and other factors.

There is a priority deadline on April 30, but applications are accepted throughout the year as seats are available. Smart Start Director of Programs Laura Villegas said people should still apply as long as applications are open.

Smart Start is also still taking applications for this year’s seats. During the previous year, it has been difficult to fill all of the county’s seats during the pandemic and sites were offering a mixture of options including virtual, hybrid and in-person.

The mixture of models, availability and scheduling during the pandemic created issues for some families.

Villegas said virtual offerings were not on the table before the pandemic and she is not expecting new guidance from the state immediately, but she is expecting sites to be back in person.

Villegas said there have been no changes to income or age requirements.

This year, people can now apply completely online. There have been more than 100 submitted so far, which Villegas said is a bit behind a normal year still.

Smart Start Executive Director Amy Brown said the agency has done well filling slots during the past year despite the circumstances.

“There were more vacancies this year than we’ve ever had, but the state has been supportive and are paying for those anyway to keep the system supported,” Brown said. “Moving forward, we’re very hopeful we will not have any vacancies. Of course we don’t know what the future holds, but it looks to be the end of this COVID tunnel.”

Pre-K sets students up to succeed in kindergarten by teaching them basic academic skills like how to spell their names and getting them adjusted to being in a classroom setting. Students who attend a pre-K program generally perform better in Kindergarten. NC Pre-K provides an evidence-based program.

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