House seeks to redefine 'at-risk' preschoolers

Posted April 11, 2013
Updated April 15, 2013

— A proposal filed Thursday would drastically reduce the number of 4-year-olds eligible for public pre-kindergarten programs in North Carolina.

House Bill 935, filed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Justin Burr would change the definition of an "at-risk" child.

Under current income guidelines, children of families of four making less than $51,000 are eligible for the free program. Children currently enrolled under that definition could continue the program.

For future enrollments, the bill would change the cutoff to 100 percent of poverty, which is about $23,550 for a family of four, or $19,530 for a family of three.

Early education advocates say that could cut the number of children eligible for the program by at least a third.  

House Republicans floated a similar proposal in 2012. At that time, Burr said narrowing the income eligibility would allow the state to focus its resources on children most in need of assistance.  

It could also help the state out of a legal fight with Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who ruled in 2011 that the state has a constitutional duty to provide free pre-kindergarten to all at-risk 4-year-olds.

In 2012, the state Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Manning's ruling. The state Supreme Court agreed last month to hear the case.

Last year, under the current definition, the number of at-risk 4-year-olds in the state was estimated at 67,000. The state allotted funding for only about 26,000 seats. 

Covering all of them would likely cost the state an additional $300 million a year. But a change in the definition of "at-risk" could allow the state to be in compliance with Manning's ruling without spending extra money.


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  • rcherry132004 Apr 19, 2013

    I have an idea...how about we just put 40-50 kids in every class, give them NO free anything, and reduce the teacher load by at least 1/2. Apparently, our govt. is only concerned about the $ and not the best interest of the children. Because teachers have been doing so much with so little does not mean that can continue forever...especially when the little keeps dwindling away. Good luck keeping teachers in this state! There will be a teacher shortage in this state in the next 3-5 years because no one wants to work where they aren't appreciated.

  • Krimson Apr 16, 2013

    By redefining "at-risk", the GOP has successfully eliminated the number of "at-risk" children in NC. They didn't make their lives any better, they just decided they weren't "at-risk" anymore...

    Next, the GOP will eliminate "poverty" by redefining that too...

  • BaseBallMommy Apr 15, 2013

    I am trying to figure out why poor children are in more need of this. I have seen plenty of kids that I grew up with who were considered poor to turn out to be productive members of society. And vice versa, I have seen kids that were given every opportunity do nothing. I am not sure that income level is the right way to determine who needs it most.

  • babbleon1 Apr 14, 2013

    Because, you know, if you don't like the way the game is going, it's time to change the rules. Especially since changing the rules will make life easier for you and other rich people.

  • RonnieR Apr 12, 2013

    I wonder why children of the military are considered at risk.

  • my2cents-justsaying Apr 12, 2013

    Why is there all this anger and prejudice against poor 4 year olds? Calling them leeches?! Yeah, because these children totally asked to be born, and specified that they wanted to be born into a poor family. So let's punish the children for their choices right?!

    Most children have a significant portion of their identity formed by the time they are five. Catching any potential issues (behavioral, developemental) while they are young, as well as teaching them the value of education, and preparing them for kindergarten saves the school system from problems and expenses down the road.

    My son has behavioural/developemental problems, and I pay $900 a month for his pre-school. I hope that he can participate and benefit from the more at four program when he turns four.

    Instead of being progressive, there are so many dead set on returning to the caste system. This divisiveness makes me sick.

  • Kaitlyn Apr 12, 2013

    I totally support the pre-K program but given the limited number of high quality programs available and the long wait-list I also think it's important to be sure that those children who are most at-risk get in right away.

    I would actually go a little further with this bill and create up a triage system to determine which children should have first priority to get in. It should not be just first-come-first-served. Kids with diagnosed conditions like developmental delay AND are from low income homes should have priority over those whose only risk factor is low income.

  • unc70 Apr 11, 2013

    Changing the definition after the fact is certain to make the judge happy. Not!