"We cannot build a world-class workforce if our children don't come to school ready to learn. Too many children are coming to school ready to fail because we haven't reached them early enough. Those failures are North Carolina's failures. We can do better for our children, and we must".

Former Governor Jim Hunt
​​Smart Start is a comprehensive public-private initiative to help all North Carolina children enter school healthy and ready to succeed. Smart Start programs and services provide children under age six access to high-quality and affordable child care, health care and family support services. 

Smart Start was launched in 1993 by former Governor Jim Hunt, and is the only program of its kind, because it is a comprehensive approach to preparing children for school. Local partnerships determine programs and services that best meet local needs.

In Cleveland County, the local Partnership has selected to implement the following activities:

  • Subsidized tuition in four and five star rated facilities so parents can work
  • Preschool classrooms in the public school providing inclusive environments
  • Child care referral services for families of children aged 0-5 seeking high quality child care 
  • Support for the child care industry: professional training, education programs, support for recruiting and retaining personnel, technical assistance to child care facilties owners in maintaining and/or achieving higher levels of licensure through sustainability grants, wage supplements and education bonuses
  • Community awareness and early childhood issues
  • Literacy awareness including free books to all children up to five years of age
Activity Descriptions

Child Care Resource and Referral

Child Care Connections of Cleveland County, Inc. will provide child care referral services to Cleveland County families of children birth to 5 years; offer consumer education to families on quality child care issues; and serve the child care provider community through professional development opportunities, technical assistance and support. Attention will be given to assisting program directors/owners in maintaining or achieving higher levels of licensure. Staff will promote community awareness around early childhood issues as related to quality child care environments, and child care supply and demand. An annual appreciation event for early childhood professionals will be held in the spring of each program year. This activity will be housed and administered through Child Care Connections of Cleveland County, Inc. and employ up to seven (7) staff dedicated to the delivery of services: Executive Director, Director of Provider Services, two (2) Provider Specialists, Parent Referral Specialist, Data Specialist/Parent Referral Assistant, and Business Manager.

Education Bonuses

Child Care Connections, Inc. administers the Smart Start Education Bonus program. Using Smart Start funding, individualized technical assistance will be offered to current and prospective child care providers in developing a professional development plan, track progress, and provide information on professional development resources. Education Bonuses will be awarded to directors, lead teachers, and teachers employed in any licensed Cleveland County child care facility upon completion of early childhood education coursework, courses taken in pursuit of an early childhood education degree and/or prerequisite developmental coursework. A grade of "C" or better must be earned, and a current professional development plan must be on file with Child Care Connections. Providers may receive up to $75.00 per credit hour not to exceed $1,800.00 per program year. A bonus of up to $25.00 may be awarded for developmental courses not to exceed $100.00 per program year. Upon proof of completion, an award of up to $50.00 will be paid for a degree, diploma or certificate in early childhood education. A Review Team will approve all applications for bonuses and make recommendations for awards. This program will be administered and housed at Child Care Connections under the guidance and supervision of the Executive Director and will employ two staff dedicated to this activity: Director of Provider Services and Provider Specialist.

Quality Sustainability

The Quality Sustainability activity will provide monthly financial supplements to four (4) and five (5) star rated facilities in the Star Rated License system with a minimum of five (5) lead teacher education points in order to maintain their established higher levels of care. Facilities must meet at least three (3) of eight (8) high quality indicators. Monthly supplements will be based upon a percentage of total 0-5 year old enrollment and the number of indicators met. A Review Team will review all applications and make recommendations for supplements. Participating programs will sign a Technical Assistance agreement for a minimum of four (4) on-site visits per year. The Quality Sustainability Activity will be housed at Child Care Connections under the guidance and supervision of the Executive Director and will employ two (2) staff members dedicated to this activity: the Director of Provider Services and Provider Specialist.

Preschool Classrooms

​Using Smart Start funding, the Cleveland County Schools provides educational services to at-risk children and children with disabililties in inclusive classrooms. Children with disabilities must meet the North Carolina requirements as defined in the North Carolina Procedures, Governing Programs and Services for Children with Disabilities. Children are served by a Birth-Kindergarten certified teacher and qualified assistant.
For more information, call 704-476-8064. 

​​​​Child Subsidy

Using Smart Start funds, the Cleveland County Department of Social Services provides financial assistance on a direct per child basis for the purchase of care part or full time day care and or rate enhancements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) eligible of Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) eligible families. Services are provided in child care facilities in Cleveland County holding at least 4 or 5 Star rating on North Carolina's child care facility quality rating system. 


​​The Child Care WAGE$ project is a statewide education-based supplement initiative created and administered by Child Care Services Association (CCSA), a non-profit agency in Chapel-Hill. North Carolina. Using Smart Start funds, applications from teachers, directors and family child care providers are accepted on a rolling basis throughout the fiscal year and payments are made monthly to each group of participants successfully completing a commitment period at that time.