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Kindergarten Requirements for the State of North Carolina

Kindergarten Requirements for the State of North Carolina

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North Carolina was the first state in the nation to make full-day kindergarten universally available and fully funded for its students and the state continues its strong dedication to early childhood education to this day. Preschool standards and kindergarten assessments are in place across the state, with greater than 90 percent of students enrolled in full-day kindergarten programs. Here are the top laws and requirements for students entering kindergarten in the state of North Carolina.

Kindergarten Not Mandatory

In North Carolina, students aren’t required to attend kindergarten. However, according to statute, the initial point of entry into the school system is kindergarten. Thus, a principal must override this for an exceptionally mature student in order for that student to be placed in 1st grade without first attending a kindergarten program. All school districts must offer their students full-day kindergarten programs (although local boards of education may file for exemption).

Full-Day Kindergarten Required

North Carolina school districts are required by statute to fund full-day kindergarten programs for all eligible students. By law, kindergarten programs must be offered 185 days or 1,025 hours per year, which translates to around 5.5 hours per day. According to an Education Week study published in 2015, greater than 90 percent of North Carolina’s kindergarten students were enrolled in full-day programs.

Educational Standards: Common Core Plus NC Essential Standards

The North Carolina Department of Education and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction adopted the Common Core standards for English/language arts and mathematics in June, 2010, with full implementation in the 2012–2013 school year. In addition, the NC Essential Standards are in place, written using the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (RBT) with a focus on both cognitive process and knowledge dimension of all standards.

Current Age Requirements

For a child to be eligible for kindergarten in North Carolina, he or she must have turned 5 on or before August 31. The compulsory school age in North Carolina is 7 years old.

Early Entry Rules

Children who don’t meet the age requirement are allowed to “opt in” in North Carolina if they have already been enrolled in kindergarten in another state. In addition, students who are age 4 by April 16 can be granted an age waiver for early entrance to kindergarten if they are deemed gifted and talented, and approved by the school principal.

Required Immunizations and Available Exemptions

In order to attend school in North Carolina, students must have proof of all required immunizations (or a valid exemption as discussed below). Required immunizations include DTaP, polio, MMR, hepatitis B, and varicella. See the list of required vaccinations here.

North Carolina law provides for both medical and religious exemptions from required immunizations for school attendance. Medical exemptions can only be requested by a physician who is licensed to practice medicine in North Carolina. For religious exemptions, the parent or guardian must write a formal statement of their religious objection to immunization and submit that statement to the school

Pre-Entrance Testing/Screening Requirements

Beginning in the 2014–2015 school year, all students entering kindergarten must in the first 30 days of school undergo a developmental screening that assesses early language, literacy, and math skills. In addition, a kindergarten entry assessment must be given within 60 days of enrollment that assesses the 5 essential domains of school readiness: language and literacy development, cognition and general knowledge, approaches toward learning, physical well-being and motor development, and social/emotional development.

Maximum Teacher to Pupil Ratio

The recommended teacher to pupil ratio in North Carolina is 1 teacher to 18 students, and this is the maximum ratio that’s funded. However, classes sizes can by law be a bit bigger than this: up to a 1:21 maximum.

Early Learning State Standards

In North Carolina, there are Early Learning Standards for preschool students that are aligned with K-12 Common Core and state standards. These standards focus both on core subjects and on areas of emotional and social development.


All of these laws and requirements are reviewed in great detail on the North Carolina State Board of Education and North Carolina Department of Public Instruction websites.

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