NC judge orders pre-kindergarten services restored

Posted July 18, 2011

— North Carolina cannot limit enrollment in a pre-kindergarten program for at-risk children that saw its budget reduced by the General Assembly, the judge overseeing a long-running education-opportunity lawsuit ordered Monday.

It's not clear whether the order by Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. could force the Legislature to redo part of the $19.7 billion state budget that took effect this month. Manning said only that he is confident the state will live up to its constitutional duties to afford every child a good, basic education.

"This is not advisory. It is an order," said Melanie Dubis, an attorney for the five poor school districts involved in the lawsuit. "The overall education budget is not sufficient to meet all of the requirements" laid down by the state Supreme Court.

Gov. Bev Perdue, who saw the budget become law after her veto was overridden, called on lawmakers to rework their spending plan in time for the coming school year. The Legislature reconvenes next week for a session primarily dedicated to redistricting.

"The legislature must provide the at-risk children of North Carolina with the educational programs that will ensure they get off to the right start — and give them a real chance at success," Perdue, a Democrat, said in a statement Monday afternoon.

Republican legislative leaders, who were reviewing Manning's order, said they do not think it will have any impact on the GOP-written budget.

"While it is uncertain whether or not the court’s decision will ultimately be allowed to stand, the budget provision addressed by the court has nothing to do with funding," House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said in a statement.

Judge orders NC pre-K services restored Judge orders NC pre-K services restored

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said Manning failed to note in his ruling that the state budget placed 1,000 more teachers into classrooms around the state. Implementing Manning's order would require pulling money from other educational programs, he said.

Lawyers for low-wealth school districts in Hoke, Robeson, Vance, Halifax and Cumberland counties argued that the state budget undercuts gains made since a landmark 1997 Supreme Court decision. The ruling in the Leandro case, named for one of its plaintiffs, said every child has a constitutional right to an education that allows them to compete for a job or higher education and to be a functional citizen.

Since then, state officials have been under court pressure to improve literacy and other measures of student performance, and to prepare 4-year-olds at risk of falling behind their peers before they enter kindergarten. The state since 2002 has pointed to a program called More At Four as satisfying the court's demands.

More At Four defined at-risk children as those whose families earn below the statewide average, who have a disability or chronic health problem, come from a family that doesn't speak English at home, or have parents on active military duty.

The state budget that took effect this month cuts funding by 20 percent and requires parents to pay up to 10 percent of their income to participate.

"It is heartbreaking for me to say, 'There is nothing we can do to help you without this funding," said Nedra Wicker, executive director of A Safe Place Childcare in Raleigh.

The budget also shifts the program from the state's education agency to the Department of Health and Human Services division that runs a voucher program that helps workers and students pay childcare costs.

The new program, called NC Pre-Kindergarten, also limits the number of spots for at-risk youngsters to 20 percent, Manning said. Any barrier to enrolling at-risk 4-year-olds "may not be enforced," Manning said.

"This could change everything," Wicker said. 

Pre-K educators applaud Manning's ruling Pre-K educators applaud Manning's ruling

"If the present plan is implemented as set out in the budget bill, several thousand at-risk four-year-olds who are eligible to attend NCPK will not be provided with slots because of the limitations on their participation to 20 percent," Manning wrote.

Estimates are that there are up to 67,000 eligible at-risk 4-year-olds in North Carolina, Manning said.

More At Four served about 32,000 children during the last academic year, but limiting the slots for at-risk children means only 6,400 of the children More At Four was created to help will get it under the state budget, Manning said.

"This result is unacceptable and may not occur as the at-risk four-year-olds are to be provided a high-quality pre-kindergarten in order that they may be able to enter the public schools with sufficient skills and development," Manning said.

Stephanie Fanjul, president of the North Carolina Partnership for Children, called the news of Manning's ruling "incredible."

"For every child in the state, it is their constitutional right to have access to early education," Fanjul said.


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  • littleriver69 Jul 27, 2011

    I say let the judge pay the bill!! He'd sing a different tune then.

  • iamsiam1096 Jul 20, 2011

    bill0 - ""benefit or no benefit that is not the point of the ruling, the ruling states it cannot limit enrollment by the 20% cut."

    Try again. You seem to be making the same mistake as many posters. There are two 20% provisions in the law. The first is a 20% spending cut. The judge made no ruling on that. The second is a cap on enrollment that says no more that 20% of the spots can go to "at risk" kids.

    No I was talking about the 20% cut referring to the 20% spots for at risk kids...
    The program as it is still leaves out at risk there really is no change other than in numbers that are attending. The way they are chosen is still the same, the number of slots is limited as it ALWAYS has been. So if limiting the slots is wrong now, then by his words it has always been which is totally impractical.

  • charliependergrass Jul 19, 2011

    Ok it is good to know that there are so many perfect parents in this state HAHA. For the ones on here that are so against the program have you gone to the school to see what this program is about before you gave your opinion? I AM GUESSING YOU HAVE NOT. Because most of you are really ignorant to what the program is about. I am a single mother who has worked ever since I was 16. Paying my taxes just like everyone else should including alot of your social security that I will never see. I worked with my son everyday to try and get him ready for school but I missed somethings that were very important for his development because I am not perfect. Thanks to the smart start program he was caught up to where he needed to be for kindergarden. I didnt see it as a free daycare because that wasn't what I was looking for. I had a wonderful sitter that I paid every week proudly without aid from social services. I just wanted my son to be on the right track for success.

  • katzpauz Jul 19, 2011

    @bill0...There are RINOs. So, the quote is correct, "Manning is another liberal judge who likes to legislate from the bench." He didn't call Manning a Democrat judge.

    Fact check completed.

  • ICTrue Jul 19, 2011

    "Fact check: Manning is a republican judge appointed by a republican governor." bill0

    Reality Check: That doesn't mean that he is not a liberal.

  • Harrison Bergeron Jul 19, 2011

    "Harrison Bergeron - your link is very misleading. The "control" group includes kids who got to stay at home with a parent full time - over 1/3 of them...

    The real comparison needs to be with standard daycare. If you look at those stats, the head start and more at four kids do perform better than kids from comparable backgrounds who don't go through the program." -bill0

    No,the control group was balanced, as it should be:

    "This study evaluated the Head Start program against a mixture of alternative care settings rather than against a condition of “no services” or parental care only condition. About 40 percent of the non-Head Start group did not receive formal preschool education, and for those who did, quality was generally lower than in Head Start. Nevertheless, many of the control group children did receive child care or early childhood education.

  • bill0 Jul 19, 2011

    "Manning is another liberal judge who likes to legislate from the bench."

    Fact check: Manning is a republican judge appointed by a republican governor.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Jul 19, 2011

    I paid for my daughter to attend pre-school, why should my tax dollars be wasted to pay for other kids to attend "more at four" pre-school.

    Manning is another liberal judge who likes to legislate from the bench.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Jul 19, 2011

    The improvement kids get from "more at four" goes away after 3rd grade, from that point on the kids are underachievers again.

    More wasted tax dollars.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Jul 19, 2011

    Seeing that North Carolina law doesn't require students to attend kindergarten, how can this judge legally require the state of North Carolina to fund the pre-K "more at four" program.

    Manning is another liberal judge who likes to legislate from the bench.