Pre-K classrooms feeling brunt of funding debate

Posted August 17, 2011

— Stephanie Benner, a teacher at Lord of Life Preschool and Kindergarten Academy of Garner, has a big job – getting 18 4-year-olds from at-risk and low-income families ready for kindergarten.

"My goal is to give them the academic, social and emotional opportunities that they would not receive by not being in preschool," Benner says.

As one the state's certified pre-kindergarten teachers, she has been paying close attention to the debate in the General Assembly and the courtroom about funding for classes like hers, which are part of what used to be the More at Four program.

The state budget that took effect last month cuts about $16 million in funding for the program, renamed North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten, and shifts it from the state's education agency to the Department of Health and Human Services' child development division, which also runs a voucher program that helps workers and students pay child care costs.

To help offset the cuts, lawmakers added a provision to the budget that allows pre-kindergarten programs to charge co-payments of up to 10 percent of parents' income.

But Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who has long overseen a landmark State Supreme Court ruling that every child receive an equal education, ruled last month that the changes would limit enrollment in the service and that the state must offer the program as part of its duty to provide a good, basic education.

Last week, Gov. Bev Perdue issued an executive order that pre-kindergarten education be offered to all eligible 4-year-olds while maintaining existing academic standards.

For a while, Benner worried that a co-pay option would force many of her students to drop out.

 Pre-K classrooms feeling brunt of funding debate

"All the debates have definitely had a direct impact to our classroom," she says.

Manning's ruling has taken co-payments off the table, for now, but lawmakers did not add any funding to make it up. That means many programs have less room for students who need them.

"There are going to be kids who miss the program," says Pamela Dowdy, director of Wake County's SmartStart program.

Dowdy says the program enrolled more than 1,200 children last year. This year, it can only afford slots for about 900. Approximately 725 children are waiting for pre-K services.

"(These are students) who are eligible for the program, who need the program and who may not be served," she says. "It's like the budget struggles are being fought over a 4-year-old child's future."

It is uncertain when or if more funding will become available for pre-K programs this year, butDowdy says the program will be ready to add more students if it happens.

In the meantime, teachers like Benner press forward, helping as many students as they can.

"Of course I'm concerned," she says. "Our children are our main focus here, and we do everything we can, from our hearts, for the children and for these families."


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  • Greyhound_Girl Aug 25, 2011

    Tar Heel 4 Real - if you chose to have a child, you should at least be responsible for preparing him/her for school (teaching letters, number, shapes and colors). What, do you want the State to do it all? Why not just turn your child over to the State when it's born and let them raise it? You can pick them up at High School Graduation...

    The schools already spend too much time with sex education, driver's ed, and other areas that should be covered at home taking too much time away from the classroom learning.

    You have to pass a test to drive a car, but any one at any age can have a child....why don't people wake up and THINK about the consequences (or responsibilities) associated with their actions...

    having a child = 18 + years of feeding, clothing, teaching, etc.

    Ask yourself, can you afford it? No -> then don't have a kid!

  • kermit60 Aug 24, 2011

    Another free program for unfit parents. What exactly are parents responsible for? Social and Emotional skills along with potty training tying shos etc, are a parents responsibility not the schools or ultimatly the taxpayers.

  • Nancy Aug 18, 2011

    "Nancy, you really need to do some background research before you share your opinion regarding PREK programs not having a positive impact on K12. There's no room for wrong information and false opinions on here or anywhere. I support yours or anyone's right to speak, but do so with knowledge and truth. We need forums like this to open our minds not clutter them more with falsity."

    Well, you can read the studies yourself, they are abundant and available on your very own internet connection.

    Any benefit from Smart Start, More at Four and even the fed program known as Head Start - all fade quickly from 3rd grade on - no difference beyond that with those who did not have access to any of those programs.

    If you call that a wise investment, good for you. My priorities on money and return on investment are much higher.

  • storchheim Aug 18, 2011

    The frisky PC hit "Add Comment" too quickly, but I wanted to add:

    That's not "less fortunate", that's deliberate choice.

  • storchheim Aug 18, 2011

    Journey985, it's quite a stretch for you to point out that we're experiencing an economic disaster, therefore More at 4 is worthwhile.

    Perhaps one prerequisite should be that the household have no TVs. Then, and only then, will I believe that the parent(s) care about educating their children.

  • storchheim Aug 18, 2011

    "if the child isn't socailly interactive, its learned through prek, class room settings, learned through prek, and i can go on and on and on"

    I suppose you can, if you keep repeating "learned through prek".

    And what is "socially interactive"? Define your buzzwords, please, or did you just hear someone else say that?

    If it means knowing how to behave around others, isn't that also accomplished with "playdates" (another gagworthy buzzword)? Before I went to school I played with sibs and kids all up and down the block. When alone, I played with my imaginary friends. But then my mother didn't plop me down in front of a TV, and - imagine this - my older sister came home from kindergarten and taught me to read. I was so young I do not remember learning, but I do remember the reaction of my kindergarten teacher when she found out I was reading at an adult level. I thought everybody did!

  • larieke Aug 18, 2011

    MonkeyFace, That's a direct quote from the law that established government funded Pre K. I think you are confused with the difference between "privately" funded Pre K and "tax payer" funded Pre K. The discussion here is about "tax payer" funded Pre K. In other words, baby sitting for those that don't bare the responsibility themselves. As far as the Military inclusion goes, I've asked them to do above and beyond what I would be willing to do myself. I am more than happy to have them included. But the program is not necessary. We have kindergarten to prepare kids for the upcoming educational process.

  • seenbetterdaze Aug 18, 2011

    Amazing how many comments don't take into consideration that the once Great USA Is bankrupt! Every penny the Gov. spends today is BORROWED. All these feel-good programs sound so nice, but the reality is the CUTS are coming for all GOV. programs like it or not. The first day the checks are NOT in the mail..WHO do you think will be out on the streets..those who are ENTITLED and think what's YOURS is THEIRS.

  • storchheim Aug 18, 2011

    Maybe because those poor families are more worried about how to get food on the table, and they have to be able to work to do that. "

    I have no sympathy for anyone who's had a child in the last 3 -4 years and then complains that money is tight. The bottom fell out in 2007 with the mortgage crisis and when the rest of the world saw what we had elected as our President. But I suppose the "less fortunate" just giggled and knew it would be business as usual for them. And more babies means bigger cash payments.

  • storchheim Aug 18, 2011

    Monkeyface, if you don't mind my asking, why did you send your daughter to More at 4? You said she isn't disabled, etc., but also that she has grown phenomenally. I'm curious as to why you sent her if she was getting along OK. Not saying you shouldn't have, more just asking what prompted you.