Wake County plans to launch a new educational pre-kindergarten program for three-year-olds from low-income families.

On Wednesday, county and school board officials announced the program–dubbed Wake ThreeSchool–will begin to roll out next year. It aims to increase resources for families with children currently too old for state and federally funded infant and toddler daycare programs and too young for pre-kindergarten. 

By providing early educational programming for this group, County Commission Chair Matt Calabria hoped to further close the achievement gap and foster better long-term outcomes for children throughout their lives.

“If a ship turns just a few degrees, it may not seem like a whole lot at that moment but you end up in a very different place years down the road,” Calabria said Wednesday.

The county will take the next year to research and launch the program, which will initially cost $350,000 and include limited programs of up to 100 kids at several highly rated existing pre-K facilities. Over time, Calabria said they hope the program will eventually serve 1,700 children.

By the time the program is fully built out, it is estimated to cost about $20 million, said Gayle Headen, executive director of the county’s Smart Start program. 

The price tag is worth it, Headen says, as early education can have huge impacts throughout a child’s life. 

“Brain building is at its peak in early childhood, particularly in year three,” Headen said. “Literally they are wired for better success.”

In order to qualify for the program, families need to make below double the poverty line, which is considered $26,500 for a family of four. There are about 4,000 children in the county that are currently considered eligible, Calabria said. 

Follow Senior Staff Writer Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to ltauss@indyweek.com.

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