NC judge denies GOP motion on pre-kindergarten

Posted September 6, 2011

— A Superior Court judge will not rethink his decision to order North Carolina to provide pre-kindergarten education to all at-risk 4-year-olds, and has told Republican legislative leaders they don't have the standing to intervene in the case.

Wake County Judge Howard Manning affirmed in a ruling released Friday his decision in July to strike down a portion of the state budget that would limit the number of 4-year-olds in need who could enroll in pre-k programs, ruling that the state constitution requires the state to provide a quality education to all children.

"The court remains confident that the state of North Carolina will discharge its constitutional duties to the children of North Carolina, including 'at-risk' prospective enrollees, so that each child may have the equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education" as required by law, Manning wrote.

The ruling is a setback for the Republican leadership of the General Assembly, which argues Manning's July ruling will blow a hole in the budget. The state Attorney General's Office is appealing the earlier ruling at the behest of legislative leaders.

"North Carolina's Constitution gives the legislature the authority to set education policy, but Judge Manning is clearly determined to create a massive new welfare program from the bench," Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger said in a statement Tuesday.

Berger, along with House Speaker Thom Tillis, had sought to be allowed to intervene in the case in their capacities as legislative leaders. They also asked Manning to "clarify" the intent of the General Assembly in setting a 20 percent cap on the number of at-risk 4-year-olds who could be served by pre-kindergarten programs.

"Our state’s highest court has previously overturned the activist view that North Carolina was compelled to add another grade to our public school system without the input of the people’s elected representatives," Tillis said in a statement. "We look forward to a higher court reaffirming what appeared to be a matter that was settled in 2004.”

The lawmakers contended that the language of the budget law was "admittedly imprecise," but that the General Assembly intended to limit enrollment concerning only those students defined as "at-risk" for reasons other than financial hardship, such as chronic health problems.

"This court is not authorized to enter an order essentially revising an act of the General Assembly," Manning wrote in rejecting the motion.

Manning also denied a request by the Republican leaders to clarify that the state Constitution doesn't require a new pre-kindergarten program in order to serve all at-risk children in the state. Manning wrote that the state's obligations under the constitution are already clear, and that "Pre-k is a proper way to address the state's obligation to 'at-risk' prospective enrollees so that they can be prepared to enter kindergarten with the opportunity to obtain a sound basic education" as required by the constitution.

Gov. Beverly Perdue said Tuesday that the Department of Health and Human Services is already drawing up a plan to comply with Manning's July 18 order, although the plan will likely be delayed by a lack of resources.

The Democratic governor had responded to Manning's order by directing state agencies to admit all children who qualify, which could mean doubling the reach of a program that last year served about 32,000 4-year-olds. That could cost the state between $145 million and $360 million, depending on how many additional children are served and how much local governments need to spend, according to nonpartisan legislative fiscal analysts.


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  • caryzoo Sep 7, 2011

    Thank you, Judge Manning. This an expensive program, but a very worthwhile one.

  • warbirdlover Sep 7, 2011

    Ok, who has the authority to pick and choose which children get in the program. If one disatvantaged child gets to go, the rest of them should be also able to go too. I'm not saying the program is of any benefit to NC. I'm just saying if one gets in the rest should, the government should not have the power to exclude anyone that qualifies.

  • thefiredog Sep 7, 2011

    souysay, you're wrong when you say it's worthless after six months, there's data to show improved performance over a much longer period of time. Research has also shown though over time the benefits diminish. This web page has more information than you'll ever want. http://www.fpg.unc.edu/~mafeval/pages/publications.cfm You'll notice they don't like to talk about benefits past 3rd. grade. As a counter point here's a study showing the effects of reading level in the 3rd. grade on graduation rate: http://ht.ly/4xNNK What is true is that we are not compounding our investment. A lot of money is spent on a program which is not significantly increasing graduation rates. Unless action is taken to change this, I feel like bob is correct in saying it's a subsidized daycare program. Could More at Four be part of the solution? Maybe. But it's not the whole solution.

  • Nancy Sep 7, 2011

    "Judge Manning is only doing his job, making sure that the actions of the Congress are following the State Consitution as written." - warbird

    Please provide a link that states this is in the NC constitution.

    There is no law that mandates this pre-k program.

  • warbirdlover Sep 7, 2011

    I can't believe that so many people don't have the slightest clue on how our government works. It's a system of checks and balances, to make sure that not one branch of the government can become more powererful than the others. Judge Manning is only doing his job, making sure that the actions of the Congress are following the State Consitution as written. If these checks and balances were not in place, this country would have long ago been in a State of anarchy.

  • bill0 Sep 7, 2011

    If you are questioning the ruling, you either haven't read the law or don't understand the role of judges in our government.

    The legislature passed a law finding a school program to help "at risk" students AND said only 20% of "at-risk" students could be enrolled. It is nonsense on its face but also obviously discriminatory to not allow poor kids into the program for poor kids.

    The judge ruled the law was unconstitutional as written. The republican leaders know this and admit that the wording was vague and not what they intended. Instead of just passing a new law (as they should) they want the judge to issue a ruling interpreting the law as something other than the way it is written. Now THAT would be judicial activism! They also want to become a party to a lawsuit - a clear violation of the separation of powers. The executive branch is solely responsible for enforcing laws and is the only branch that can enter into the lawsuit.

  • fayncmike Sep 7, 2011

    "bone..give away program

    thats that whole education thing, don;'t you thinK.

    Yes, right, our kids don't need no stinking education. Let's continue to lag behind the rest of the developed world education wise.

  • pappybigtuna1 Sep 7, 2011

    this judge is out of line, he does not write law, he preside over legal matters, his word is not the final word. Our constitution protects us from people like him. He is one person, one voice; unless he has a new title Dictator Omar Manning

  • fayncmike Sep 7, 2011

    Sorry people, I didn't notice that I had misspelled occurs until it was already sending. I'm not the world's best speller.

  • fayncmike Sep 7, 2011

    "smcallah, did you know that technically Congress can limit the types of appellate cases the federal courts can hear even up to and including the Supreme Court with the only sole exception of cases that the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in. That power is found in Article III of the United States Constitution. I notice you used the key word "lately" but in all technicality the federal Constitution at least for the federal government does not give the judiciary unchecked judicial review to override Congress.

    Perhaps you might tell all of us where, in Section Three or the 11th. amendment that modifies it, that occures?