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Median income change opens state-funded pre-K to more families

SALISBURY — A recent increase in the state’s median income figure means more local kids are eligible for free pre-K.

The key metric for eligibility for the program is a family being at or below 75% of the state’s median income. In May, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services increased the median income metric.

A family of four can now make up to $60,554 gross annual income and qualify. A family of two can make up to $41,176.

Laura Villegas, Rowan County Smart Start program director, said the second round deadline was Friday. However, applications are still open and she encourages families to keep applying.

The state has allocated 312 N.C. Pre-K slots for Rowan County. The first round filled 125 of those. Villegas said the agency still has to process its latest round of applications before it knows how many seats it will have left, but staff members have gone back to applications that did not meet the income requirement before to try and get slots for those families as well.

Families who previously did not apply because they do not quite meet the old income requirement are encouraged to do so now. The program will continue to accept students even after classes are underway.

Processing the applications is time-consuming because Smart Start receives many applications with incomplete information. Villegas said the agency has dozens of incomplete applications it has to follow up on, but the staff makes an effort to get those applications complete because it wants to get as many children as possible into the program.

Villegas said incomplete applications are the most difficult part of intake for the program. Smart Start recently held a training with N.C. pre-K sites to help get the documentation correct.

The follow-up process starts with an email listing exactly what the application is missing. If that does not get a response, staff will call the family or try to connect with them via their current child care site.

N.C. Pre-K is entirely state-funded and available through a number of sites in Rowan County, including at several Rowan-Salisbury elementary schools. The program targets students who are approaching kindergarten age and prepares them to enter school with basic skills they need to do well like being able to spell their names.

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