Editor’s note: This article highlights our most recent participant in the “Triangle Voices in Leadership” interview series, Jan Davis. Stay tuned for more installments in this collection, where WRAL TechWire contributor Dr. Sarah Glova will continue to highlight veteran leaders from across the Triangle region.
CHAPEL HILL – Jan Davis is a staple in the Triangle angel investor scene. As a co-founder and investor with RTP Angel Fund, and with current investments at Triangle Angel Partners, the Triangle Tweener Fund, and the Carolina Angel Network, she’s one of the region’s more active tech investors.
She was also just named this year to the North Carolina Women Business Owners Hall of Fame.
What does this veteran investor, seasoned board member, experienced operator, and expert in tech commercialization want for the Triangle tech community?
More focus on pre-K.
“If the kids don’t get a good start in pre-K, then they aren’t reading by third grade,” Davis told WRAL TechWire in an interview for our exclusive Triangle Voices in Leadership collection. “And then they don’t do well in school, and they aren’t able to go on and move into 21st-century jobs, and that’s going to be an even bigger issue with things like ChatGPT. I know some of the business leaders are very concerned about that, both in terms of growing our own talent and also being able to attract talent from other areas.”
Hey, tech community—NC ranks No. 27 for access to pre-k
Davis, who recently judged a virtual pitch event sponsored by the Raleigh chapter of Founders Institute, says the education funding problem will be a tech problem, especially for the bigger companies.
“The companies that I work with are generally start-up and early stage, and so right now, they’re worried about raising money for next year,” said Davis. “But we have enough success stories, people who have run their businesses for five, ten, 15 years, stories like SAS, Red Hat, Pendo, and others, where you know, their time horizon is longer than the next 18 months of milestones. And they have to be thinking about where their employees are going to come from—they should be thinking about where their employees are going to come from.”
And for an investor like Davis, the dollars are hard to ignore.
Every $1 invested in pre-k saves taxpayers up to $13 in future costs in incarceration, education, tax collections increases, and welfare, according to a 2022 report by Public Schools First NC—and the benefits aren’t just for the children who attend. Investing in NC Pre-K has positive effects for children not directly enrolled in the program, according to the report.
But not all North Carolina families have access to pre-k programs.
The state’s pre-kindergarten program, NC Pre-K, is available for families whose gross income is at or below 75% of the State Medium Income (SMI), along with some military families and some children with predetermined “risk factors” like developmental disabilities, according to the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education (NCDCDEE) website.
And even for “eligible” families, placement is not guaranteed.
“Waiting lists exist in counties when funding is not sufficient to serve all eligible children,” says the DCDEE website.
Compared to states across the nation, NC ranks 27th for pre-K access and 19th for state spending on pre-K programs, according to a 2021 preschool yearbook report by the National Institute for Early Education Research.
‘Attractive to people that we need to have moving here’
Davis pointed out two issues that she says the tech community should care about—quality education for the children who live here and quality public school rankings to help attract more families here.
“Companies need to be thinking about how they can make sure that we are both growing our own talent pipeline and making an environment that’s attractive to people that we need to have moving here,” said Davis.
In 2022, North Carolina came in last for “funding effort,” with the state only spending 2.32% of its GDP on education. That was according to the “Making the Grade” report about state spending on public school systems in the 2019-20 school year, from The Education Law Center, a New Jersey research firm that advocates for school funding.
WRAL investigated the numbers when the report was published in April, and while North Carolina is ranked last in funding effort, WRAL noted that the state ranked No. 48 in funding level (also known as “per-pupil spending”) and No. 19 in funding distribution (the distribution of additional funds to school districts with high levels of student poverty).
“So I think that’s an area where the legislature, the business community, the K-12 schools, and the universities, we need to ask, what can we all do to try to make sure that we’re continuing to drive talent through our pipeline,” said Davis.