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Education

Meck Pre-K Takes Applications For 2021-22 Despite Lingering Pandemic Questions

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Meck Pre-K
Meck Pre-K students before masks were required.

Meck Pre-K, the county’s $20 million a year investment in public prekindergarten, is gearing up for another year marked by pandemic questions.

Mecklenburg County launched its public pre-K program in 2018 with a goal of expanding it until every resident who wants it has access to free early education for 4-year-olds. This year the pandemic curbed expansion, Executive Director Trinisha Dean said.

"So we went a little bit against the grain, I would say, initially, and we provided in-person instruction at the start of our program year in September," she said.

To allow safe distancing, Meck Pre-K cut class sizes from 18 children to nine. The county had budgeted for 1,600 children, but only 800 were served this year. Meck Pre-K classrooms are located in private child-care centers, with the county footing the bill.

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The county is now taking sign-ups for fall of 2021, though many questions remain. With vaccinations rolling out and COVID-19 cases dropping, it’s possible — but not certain — the classrooms could return to normal enrollment.

It’s also possible the county could increase the funding, which is about $20 million now. That could mean opening classrooms in new centers and expanding the income cap for eligibility. The free program is currently available to families earning up to 400% of the federal poverty level — that’s $106,000 for a family of four.

"We just are into our second week of registration for the 2021-22 school year and we’ve gotten several hundred applications submitted online," Dean said Thursday.

Dean hopes to hold in-person signup events when health officials say it’s safe. For now, find details about registration at MeckPreK.org.

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