Forsyth County parents are being encouraged to begin registering their eligible children for Pre-K, but options for early education in the area are dwindling

The registration window for free, public Pre-K programs, and many licensed child care care providers, opened Feb 1.

The application is a lengthy, and sometimes complicated process. That’s one reason SmartStart Forsyth County's Chief Program Officer Tabitha McAllister is encouraging families to get started now.

“We want to make sure that they're able to get through that application, have their questions answered right then," she said. "And so we've created a space here at the office where our families can come in and receive one-on-one assistance with completing the application.”

She says the work to place children begins around the end of April, and spots can fill up quickly. This is especially true as the number of child care providers in the area is dwindling, according to Leslie Mullinix, the project director for the Pre-K Priority, which is a collaboration of organizations committed to early childhood education in Forsyth County.

“Right now, we know since June 2022, there's been a contraction of 17% of our childcare programs. And most of those have been family childcare homes," Mullinix said. 

The situation is likely only to get worse as federal funding supporting child care in the state runs out in June. 

“The owners and operators are not only having trouble paying the wages that they were being able to pay to those teachers to retain them," Mullinix said. "But also the parents aren't going to be able to probably finance what they need to keep their child in. And so then we also are seeing that a lot of parents may have to drop out of the workforce.”

Mullinix stressed the importance of early childhood education in setting children up for success once they enter school.

"It's that stepping stone that we say is so crucial," Mullinix said. "So if we're reducing the number of children able to get that high quality Pre-K, it's a ripple effect for their school career."

Families can find more information about the Pre-K options in the area, and registration, on the Pre-K Priority website.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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