Fewer children may be eligible for NC Pre-K

Posted April 30, 2013

— A bill that passed the House Health Committee Tuesday would tighten eligibility rules for NC Pre-K, the state's free program for at-risk 4-year-olds.

Under current program standards, children of families making up to 75 percent of the state's median income, or roughly 200 percent of the federal poverty level, are considered "at risk" and therefore eligible for the program. For a family of three, that's about $39,000.

{{a href=external_link-1"}}House Bill 935{{/a}} would change the definition of "at-risk" children to those in families making no more than 100 percent of the poverty level, or about $19,500 for a family of three.

Income isn't the only criteria for the program. Eligibility standards also include children with active military parents or parents who've died in the military, as well as children with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that address developmental disabilities, chronically ill children and children with limited English proficiency.

House Bill 935 would remove the last two subgroups.

Sponsor Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, said NC Pre-K itself isn't being cut. The same number of children would be served, he said, but the change would make sure the slots are going to "children who are truly at-risk."

"Eligibility is up here, and funding is down here," Burr explained to the committee. "We're making an effort to bring this eligibility down to something we can fund." 

Under current standards, the number of eligible 4-year-olds in North Carolina is around 60,000, Burr said. Under the proposed change, it would be around 31,000. 

Burr pointed out that the lower number still exceeds the number of seats available in the program. "There still will be a need for additional funding for all those kids that are considered at risk under this new definition," he said.

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said she was "distressed" by the move to cut eligibility.

"I understand the budget restraints," she said, "but we are redoing our tax system now. We could increase funding and expand the program."

"This is an investment we need to make," Insko said. "We're not taking care of our own future – the future of this state – if we don't get these kids ready to succeed in kindergarten."

"Many of the people that are being talked about as maybe not being served were never being served in the past," responded Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, "because there was never enough money allocated in the good times or the bad times to serve every child who was eligible." 

The committee also heard a comment from Jennifer Ferrell, a self-described stay-at-home mother from Apex. She said she was there to lobby on behalf of the many parents who don't have resources to lobby for themselves.

"I'm urging that you leave the eligibility requirements alone," Ferrell said. "You'll leave many children who need help behind."

"If you're looking for funding," Ferrell added, "maybe you should look at the $4 million for voter ID that you guys are spending."

The proposal passed the committee by a 3-1 margin. Its next stop is the House floor, possibly as soon as Wednesday. 

Gov. Pat McCrory has also proposed cutting eligibility for NC Pre-K to 138 percent of the poverty level. 

In 2011, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning ruled that the North Carolina Constitution requires the state to provide pre-kindergarten for all at-risk 4-year olds. His ruling, however, did not address how "at-risk" should be defined.


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  • carrboroyouth May 5, 2013

    " She receives speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy. Now, with that being said... Yes I need help with her. Who wouldn't? I do not use it as a "Babysitter" and am offended by your nasty, hurtful comments!!"----ecuchica03

    Don't listen to the comments. I'm sure if you had the means to pay for these things yourself, you would. Sad that some don't understand that they are helping a child such as your daughter. You are one of the ones who honestly needs a hand.

  • carrboroyouth May 5, 2013

    These kids didn't ask to be born. Yes, it is my taxes for them, and I don't agree with a lot of government programs. But this is one program I think should exist. A child shouldn't be denied a good public education just because their parents let them down. Parents with disabled children and military kids can also benefit from this -- they face incredible obstacles.

  • Krimson May 3, 2013

    Kermit: "Where in the state or federal constitutions does it say that the government by using tax money is obligated to care for every person who because of ignorance or there own choice can't or will not provide for themselves or their children."

    Its Article 9, Section 2 of the NC Constitution:

    "The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students."

  • kermit60 May 3, 2013

    Where in the state or federal constitutions does it say that the government by using tax money is obligated to care for every person who because of ignorance or there own choice can't or will not provide for themselves or their children.

  • ecuchica03 May 2, 2013

    So you approve of taking other peoples money to raise your child. That is the epitome of selfish. Perhaps you would like to explain to your child that people who are living paycheck to paycheck and barely making ends meet that you are having the government force them to take the money they need to eat and live and giving it to your child to help raise it. Stop paying for internet and use that money for your child. Why should I find out more about your child, to make me feel better about you taking my money for it?

    Damien Thorne
    May 1, 2013 1:39 p.m

    You are not paying to raise my child!! She has disabilities just like some of the other children in her class. Do you have children Damien? I'm not on any form of government assistance. My husband and I pay taxes just like you... maybe even more! If you had a child with special needs I would be glad that my tax dollars go to help them!!

  • Krimson May 2, 2013

    JohnDrescher: "everyone is reliant"

    We're talking about Public Education for everyone and anyone that wants it... So yes "everyone is reliant". You either benefit directly (you went to public school), or indirectly (you live in a society that is fairly well educated b/c of public schools).

    There is substantial evidence that Pre-K is beneficial to ALL members of society, not only the "poor". IMO, its worth the few dollars we'll all pay in taxes to make sure all of our children are ready to compete in the 21st century... YMMV...

  • That Explains It May 2, 2013

    Absolutly going in the wrong direction. The whole idea is to keep EXPANDING these type programs until everyone is reliant upon government for their needs to be filled. The idea that fewer people need government assistance simply sends the wrong message. Thus expanding the qualifications is what is called for.

  • ritablueboys1 May 2, 2013

    And don't mention that bull about you being a taxpayer. Believe it or not, these parents who go out work and have taxes taken out, so yes they're taxpayers just like you! *Gasp* They just need someone to watch their child because you aren't going do it are you? So shut up unless you're providing for them. Stop thinking you're better than everyone. And no, sit there and say I'm giving you "liberal non sense". If you're not making a way for someone, sit down.

  • Krimson May 2, 2013

    Quick numbers...

    NC budgeted in 2012 $7.44B for Education. State population at that point was 9.75M. That makes each Citizen's liability for Public Education approx. $763 (7.44b/9.75m). Considering some people actually have no tax liability since they make too little money, we could assume that a full 50% of the population pays no taxes towards public education, making the tax-payers liability approx. $1526.

    And we now want to give certain people a $3200 tax credit for being rich enough to send their kid to private school??? The proposal would take Tax-Payer money away from public schools and give it to the 1% that is able to attend private/charter school - in fact, it would actually pay them to do so at the expense of the other 99% of the kids in NC.

  • Krimson May 1, 2013

    MEP: "My children (as was I) were shocked that the first few weeks of Kindergarten were wasted on learning basic color recognition and numbers. Public education without parental involvement is the reason we as a nation are failing."

    That's terrible for your child, and I would agree with your opinion about the importance of good parenting... But what you propose it to make the situation worse in the first part (fewer kids prepared for Kindergarten), and does nothing to address the second (better parenting). All you are doing is whining... Why not do something about it, like help fund Pre-K for those At-Risk kids that might hold back another child (like yours) those first few weeks???

    We can have your opinion about the effectiveness of schools, we can parry back and forth for the next millions years about that. But to whine about having under-educated kids in Kindergarten, and then take away the means for those kids, is counter-productive...