Impact of North Carolina’s Early Childhood Initiatives on Special Education Placements in Third Grade


Published online first in:
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
February 5, 2015

Clara Muschkin, Duke University
Helen F. Ladd, Duke University
Kenneth Dodge, Duke University


This study examines the community-wide effects of investments in two early childhood initiatives in North Carolina (Smart Start and More at Four) on the likelihood of a student being placed into special education. We take advantage of variation across North Carolina counties and years in the timing of the introduction and funding levels of the two programs to identify their effects on third-grade outcomes. We find that both programs significantly reduce the likelihood of special education placement in the third grade, resulting in considerable cost savings to the state. The effects of the two programs differ across categories of disability, but do not vary significantly across subgroups of children identified by race, ethnicity, and maternal education levels.