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FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — Business leaders in Winston-Salem have teamed up to make an unprecedented investment in public schools. Project Impact has pledged to donate $45 million to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools over six years.

This year more than $800,000 of that money will go to open six new pre-kindergarten classes. Every year about 1,000 kids start school in pre-K, but many others don’t get that chance.

“There’s still several hundred kids who are on a wait list who would like to be in pre-K who qualify for it based on income guidelines and things like that that we just don’t have the room to serve,” said Theo Helm, chief of staff for the school system.

“If you look at the future of our city, it’s clearly linked to educational achievement. If you look at economic impact and how you are actually going to create economic capital? Well the intellectual capital of our community has got to grow, and that begins with youth,” said Don Flow of Flow Companies.

Flow Companies, Reynolds American Foundation, BB&T, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Novant Health and The Winston-Salem Foundation along with individual donors are part of Project Impact.

One of Project Impact’s goals is to get more third-graders reading on grade level. Right now only about half of third-graders can pass the reading test. School officials say getting kids into pre-K will help solve the problem.

“Our goal is that if we can get 90 percent of our kids reading on grade level in third grade that will really eliminate the gaps,” Helm said.

School officials hope they can prove that ideas like expanding pre-K actually make a difference for their students. “We’re going to use those six years to find the best ways to help these kids get closer to our goals, meet our goals. If we have a program that works, be able to say to the community, this is what we are able to do and why the community should support it,” Helm said.