Demand back up for local N.C. Pre-K seats

Published 12:02 am Friday, April 29, 2022

SALISBURY — If you have a 4-year-old, you may qualify to place them in a free pre-kindergarten program in Rowan County.

N.C. Pre-K is a state-funded program that allows families below 75% of the median income level or with special circumstances to place their children in high quality local programs. The income cap for families for the coming school year is $63,412.

The seats available are a mix of placements in local public school classrooms and private centers that have their own N.C. Pre-K seats.

Smart Start Rowan is in charge of administrating the local seats and for the past two years the agency has reported slow application rates during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the applications are coming in like normal and the virtual programs that became standard have been discontinued.

“Things are different this year,” Director of Programs Laura Villegas said. “We’re getting a lot of applications.”

As of Thursday 340 people have already applied for seats next school year and only 302 students have been placed this school year. For the past two years the state has paid for the total slots allocated rather than the number of children enrolled. Villegas said that change is expected to end.

“We like having a good number over what we think we’ll be able to fund so we can fill those slots,” Villegas said.

Villegas said the state is no longer allowing virtual Pre-K programs other than special circumstances like a center quarantining a classroom due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The priority deadline for a seat was April 18, but Smart Start is still accepting applications. Villegas said applications submitted by the deadline will be processed first, and any seats left will go to applications submitted after the deadline.

Those later applications still have a good shot at getting accepted if a family qualifies. Villegas said currently there are more than 70 applications missing some information, while some families who apply and are accepted won’t have a student attend. And some applicants will not qualify. The agency still has more than 240 applications to process from what it has already received.

Villegas emphasized anyone applying needs to submit everything requested in the form so the applications do not need to be corrected later.

“It’s really important for them to follow the instructions and make sure the application is complete,” Villegas said. “They can always call us if they have questions.”

Smart Start has an online portal and guide for applying for a local seat at

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

email author More by Carl