This morning the Raleigh News and Observer reported on a new study from Duke University, which finds that North Carolina’s early education programs can reduce students’ need for special education by the third grade.

Duke researchers Clara Muschkin, Helen Ladd, and Kenneth Dodge analyzed access to and results of North Carolina’s state-funded early childhood programs, NC Pre-K and Smart Start, between 1995 and 2010. NC Pre-K (formerly More at Four) is a preschool program for at-risk four-year-olds, while Smart Start provides child health and family services for qualifying children ages zero to five.

“Access to the state’s prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds (at the 2009 funding of $1,110 per child) reduced the likelihood of third-grade special education placements by 32 percent, and access to Smart Start reduced the odds by 10 percent. Researchers saw a 39 percent reduction in special education placements following both early childhood programs.”[i]

In her comments to the News and Observer, Dr. Muschkin said, “It costs about twice as much to educate a child in third grade who receives special education services. If we were spending $8,000 for a regular third-grader, we would be spending twice that for a third-grader placed in special education.”[ii]

According to the Annie E. Casey foundation, 59 percent of North Carolina children don’t attend any kind of preschool.[iii] That means that over half of the state’s children don’t have access to these education benefits. It also means that North Carolina is missing out on an opportunity to save money on expensive special education programs, and to invest in future generations.

Click here to read the News and Observer story.


[i] Stancill, Janet. (February 3, 2015). “Study: Early childhood programs in NC reduce special education.” Available at

[ii] See note i.

[iii]Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2014). Kids Count: State trends in child well-being. 25th edition. Available at