The N.C. Pre-K program has become the focus of a statewide debate over early education, but it represents only a portion of state taxpayer-funded pre-kindergarten classes.
Hundreds of millions of dollars for similar programs flow through separate channels in a complicated and intertwined process that makes it difficult to fully catalog them, even for their government managers.
Local school systems, multiple government offices, nonprofits and private day cares are bound together by rules that don't always align, meaning extra costs to satisfy the rules of one program but not the rules of a similar program.
When it comes to tracking children served by all these systems, government officials are hoping a new grant through the federal Race to the Top program will help them do a better job. But for now they can't say whether the 12,000 North Carolina children on a waiting list to join the N.C. Pre-K program are already getting similar services through similar programs, according to the Division of Child Development and Early Education, which oversees N.C. Pre-K and several other subsidy programs.
The N.C. Pre-K program serves about 25,000 children at a cost of roughly $128 million a year. At that funding level, it reaches fewer than 40 percent of the 67,000 children eligible for classes under state guidelines, though some of those children may receive similar services through similar programs with a different name.