Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
  • This strategy can help address educational disparities and promote healthy childhood environments. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve these outcomes are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • Investing in early childhood supports statewide: Smart Start is a statewide network of 75 local nonprofit partners focused on improving school readiness for young children in North Carolina. The network is led by the North Carolina Partnership for Children (NCPC), which provides these local nonprofits with funding, technical assistance, business services, and more. The nonprofit partners are charged with selecting and funding local efforts to advance school readiness.

  • Setting priorities based on local needs: Smart Start’s nonprofit partners identify interventions to promote school readiness based on their local needs. Most often, these interventions focus on improving access to and the quality of early child care and education programs, providing education and resources on parenting, and improving children’s physical health. However, as Smart Start delegates decision making to the local level, the types of support offered vary. For example, while all partners focus on improving early childhood education, one partner may achieve that objective through child care subsidies, while another may focus on teacher education.

  • Using a public-private model: Smart Start uses a public-private partnership model, where local partners support and deliver services through nonprofit or for-profit providers. For example, many local partners work with childcare providers in their area to expand access to and the quality of childcare services.

  • Providing operational support: NCPC provides a range of supports to local partners and the organizations through which those partners provide services. These include business services, like centralized accounting and reporting systems; training programs for executive directors, managers, and board members; and onsite technical assistance and training for childcare providers.

Multiple studies with rigorous designs provide some evidence for Smart Start as a strategy for improving school readiness.

Note: This content is under review.

  • Conduct a needs assessment: In order to understand the current state of child wellbeing in a community, local partners should conduct a needs assessment. To get the most comprehensive picture, local partners should collect data from multiple sources, including state and federal agencies; local experts, like nonprofit leaders, clergy members, or school district leadership; and community members who use early childhood services.

  • Build capacity to convene stakeholders: Since local partners do not deliver services directly, the Smart Start model relies on the ability of those partners to convene and build buy-in among a range of stakeholders, from health clinics and preschools to teacher education programs. In addition to being able to offer funding and technical assistance, local partners can strengthen their convening power by developing their relationships with leaders in the nonprofit, governmental, and private sectors, who can serve as champions for the program.

  • Create a reporting system for service providers: By creating a reporting system for service delivery partners (e.g., early childhood education centers, healthcare providers), local partners can ensure accountability with program requirements and drive improvements in service delivery. An effective reporting system includes a defined and organized system for collecting reports from partners, verifying information, analyzing data, and providing technical assistance to help partners navigate the reporting process.

  • Develop benchmarks: Local partners should develop benchmarks to measure progress toward county-wide early childhood and school readiness objectives. Such benchmarks should measure outcomes related to childcare availability, affordability, and quality; family functioning and the quality of family support services; and health outcomes.