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Impact of North Carolina's Early Childhood Programs and Policies on Educational Outcomes in Elementary School


  • The authors are grateful to the Smith Richardson Foundation for its financial support to Duke University through the Beyond Test Scores Project. Helen Ladd also thanks the Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) funded by the U.S. Department of Education.


North Carolina's Smart Start and More at Four (MAF) early childhood programs were evaluated through the end of elementary school (age 11) by estimating the impact of state funding allocations to programs in each of 100 counties across 13 consecutive years on outcomes for all children in each county-year group (n = 1,004,571; 49% female; 61% non-Latinx White, 30% African American, 4% Latinx, 5% other). Student-level regression models with county and year fixed effects indicated significant positive impacts of each program on reading and math test scores and reductions in special education and grade retention in each grade. Effect sizes grew or held steady across years. Positive effects held for both high- and low-poverty families, suggesting spillover of effects to nonparticipating peers.