MECK Pre-K: Elevating Mecklenburg’s Economic Mobility

In June of 2023, more than 1,800 students graduated from MECK Pre-K in Mecklenburg County, NC. Families, teachers, and staff gathered at sites throughout the County to celebrate all that the students had achieved, and to cheer them on as they prepared to enter kindergarten in the fall. In the meantime, MECK Pre-K was already hard at work, preparing to welcome its sixth incoming class. 


MECK Pre-K was founded in 2018 with the goal of providing high quality free pre-K education open to all four-year-old children in Mecklenburg County. In the ensuing five years, the program expanded to include 105 classrooms at 47 childcare centers. As of 2023, more than 6,400 children had graduated from MECK Pre-K, with approximately 1,800 more starting classes in fall of that year.  


In addition to these impressive numbers, MECK Pre-K has also seen some other positive outcomes. 


Easier enrollment for families. 2023 saw increased collaboration between MECK Pre-K and NC Pre-K to streamline and improve the placement process for families who have applied for both programs. This has led to increased efficiency and progress toward universal pre-K in Mecklenburg County. 


A source of community pride. In his 2023 State of the County Address, Commission Chair George Dunlap highlighted MECK Pre-K, saying, “In the last fiscal year, more than four out of five Meck Pre-K students continued to hit their developmental benchmarks in the areas of social-emotional, language, cognitive and physical development.”  


National recognition. In 2022, Charlotte received a gold medal for High-Quality, Accessible Pre-K from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). 


A model for other communities. In 2021, an editorial in The Arizona Daily Star cited MECK Pre-K as an example for other communities to follow. Sarah Gassen, a pre-kindergarten advocate, said, “[Mecklenburg] county leaders championed MECK Pre-K to provide free high-quality preschool to more children. It’s a point of community pride and a centerpiece of the county’s economic development strategy.” Weeks later, Pima County supervisors voted to allocate millions for early childhood education. 


Feedback from families. MECK Pre-K regularly hears stories such as this one from families whose children are thriving in the program. “Meck Pre-K has helped Chelsea become an independent little girl. Every morning she has been eager to get ready to head to school. Chelsea knows her alphabet, numbers and shapes like the back of her hand! She adores everything she learns about nature. I found Meck Pre-K curriculum to be a well-rounded program that aided my child to flourish at so many levels!” 


MECK Pre-K could not have accomplished this without support from the community. The initiative came out of a concerted community effort to address economic mobility issues, and a task force called Leading on Opportunity, which found that early childhood care and education were critical and made the establishment of MECK Pre-K a priority. Mecklenburg County provided funding for MECK Pre-K, and Smart Start of Mecklenburg County was chosen to administer the program. In addition, private funders stepped forward to support teacher education and development.  


Sign Up for MECK Pre-K! 


MECK Pre-K is high quality free pre-K education open to all four-year-old children in Mecklenburg County. Classrooms are located in licensed childcare centers and taught by licensed teachers and highly qualified assistant teachers. You can apply online at 


Do you have a child who is not old enough for pre-K this year? Sign up for our email list and be notified when they’re eligible for MECK Pre-K. Simply go to and select your child’s age group.