Limits on early childhood education debated in court

Posted June 5, 2012

— Attorneys representing North Carolina argued Tuesday that the state has no obligation to provide early childhood education to every child who could benefit from such classes.

Lawmakers last year imposed enrollment caps and required co-payments of up to 10 percent of a family's income for children enrolled in North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten, a program for at-risk 4-year-olds.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who has handled several school equity lawsuits in recent years, ruled that the changes violated the state's constitutional duty to give every child a chance at a sound, basic education. Manning ordered that the state must admit any eligible 4-year-old to the program, which officials estimated could expand enrollment to 67,000 and cost the state an extra $300 million a year.

N.C. Pre-K had 24,000 students last year and about 35,000 the year before.

"There is no separate constitutional requirement to provide pre-K services," Solicitor General John Maddrey told a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals on Tuesday.

Maddrey said that a 2004 state Supreme Court ruling on public education obligated the state to provide pre-kindergarten classes only in Hoke County, arguing that Manning overstepped his authority by extending that ruling statewide.

Former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr wrote that unanimous 2004 opinion, and he argued against the state Tuesday while representing the North Carolina School Boards Association.

"There can be no question that a statewide response – a state responsibility to address and fulfill that opportunity – is a necessity," Orr said.

Maddrey maintained that North Carolina undertook a statewide pre-kindergarten program in recent years by choice, not because of a court-ordered mandate.

NC Pre-K program, pre-kindergarten Judges, lawmakers weigh limits in NC pre-K program

"It was a long-range goal. That's what the plan said it was. Over time, it became the practice of the state," he said.

The appellate judges usually take about three months before issuing a ruling.

Hours before the Court of Appeals heard the lawsuit, lawmakers pulled back from some of the limits they placed on N.C. Pre-K last year, which prompted the legal challenge.

Legislative leaders said the language they approved last year, which appeared to limit the number of students allowed per classroom, didn't convey their actual intent. So, both the House and Senate quickly passed House Bill 966, which they said fixes the problem.

The bill, which now goes to Gov. Beverly Perdue's desk, defines what risk factors, including income, make a child eligible for N.C. Pre-K and outlines how many seats must be reserved for children from low-income families.

Under the legislation, at least 80 percent of the seats in the program must be set aside for children whose family income is less than 75 percent of the state median income. Up to 20 percent of students could exceed that income restriction if they present other at-risk factors, including having an active-duty military parent.

Under current state guidelines, a 4-year-old is considered "at risk" if the family makes less than $51,000 a year. The state Division of Child Development and Early Education would be charged with setting the precise dollar amounts for income eligibility requirements.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • ProudBlackSingleMother Jun 5, 2012

    If you can't afford to have children, don't have them!

  • muggs Jun 5, 2012

    Day care for the minorities is all this is,free lunches.

  • Plenty Coups Jun 5, 2012

    whatelseisnew-"Taxes guarantee that all have that opportunity" not in the case of this pre-k nonsense. Another grand failure"

    I'm talking about k-12 education. Though not perfect, it is a proven success for the vast majority of students. I'm not sold on the pre-K stuff yet as I haven't seen solid evidence to justify the cost yet.

  • ICTrue Jun 5, 2012

    This program unconstitutional program needs to be eliminated entirely.

  • whatelseisnew Jun 5, 2012

    "Superior Court Judge Howard Manning ruled that the changes violated the state's constitutional duty to give every child a chance at a sound, basic education."

    Apparently this judge supports discrimination. What he should be ruling is that the entire program is unconstitutional because it is not available to all children. It of course should not exist in the first place. The legislature should grow some spine and get rid of this program.

    "Taxes guarantee that all have that opportunity" not in the case of this pre-k nonsense. Another grand failure. The dems will run out of excuses eventually. The K5-K12 system needs to be shut down and replaced. The very fact these so-called pre-K things exist is just more evidence of the failure of the traditional public education system.

  • jjordan231179 Jun 5, 2012

    Homeschool YOUR KIDS. Educate YOUR KIDS. You cant? DONT HAVE THEM!! Who in their right mind would let another person educate their child? Then say "I didnt raise my child to be like this".

  • Plenty Coups Jun 5, 2012

    "You make my point exactly. Someone else wants me to pay for their child to go to preschool. You disagree with me, but make my point?"

    Wrong. You alone aren't paying for them just as not one single taxpayer paid for your education. We all benefit from an educated society which is why there is no successful country in the world without a public school system. Taxes guarantee that all have that opportunity.

  • Plenty Coups Jun 5, 2012

    storcheim-"PC, give up the backpedaling. You were caught your own doubletalk. Guess you'll have to get another screen name."

    In your mind maybe. Do you not know there is a difference between some and all? Please explain how I am wrong without your usual vague assertions. Let me make it a bit more clear...those parents that don't value education and don't get involved (that would be some) tend to do poorly. Those that do value education (that would be most-but be careful here-not all)tend to do better.

    "...I'm laughing at you openly and I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking "Payback!!"

    I guess you do have me if you can explain how you claiming that I said, " I thought parents weren't involved in their kids' education. In fact, if not for that, teachers could teach properly." (which I never said, btw) somehow means that ALL parents aren't involved in their child's education. Until you can do that or list my quote that says that, your claim is ridiculous.

  • Patrick Henry Jun 5, 2012

    pc "People always want/hope for someone else to pay or make the sacrifice."

    You make my point exactly. Someone else wants me to pay for their child to go to preschool. You disagree with me, but make my point?

  • aetius476 Jun 5, 2012

    "And when Libs apparently get together to work for a common cause like, say, in setting up a union for, say, teachers......guess what happens :)" - Tcheuchter

    We know. You get "Waiting for Superman" and the DC school system.

    You get public employee and teacher's unions that are bankrupting and holding many states hostage.