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Perdue order adds to NC pre-kindergarten battle

Posted August 10, 2011
Updated August 17, 2011

— Gov. Beverly Perdue waded into a long-running battle over education funding Wednesday by ordering a state agency to accept all eligible 4-year-olds into a kindergarten prep program and without easing previous academic standards.

Perdue said she was acting in line with a judge's order last month that the state is required to serve any 4-year-old deemed at risk of falling behind their peers. But like Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr.'s ruling, the Democratic governor's executive order did not specify how the state would pay for a potential flood of thousands of children. That could increase the pressure on a Republican Legislature that decided to cut funding for the revamped program by 20 percent and charge parents a co-payment of up to 10 percent of their income.

Perdue ordered her Department of Health and Human Services to offer pre-kindergarten education to all eligible 4-year-olds while maintaining standards for teachers and academic goals that were part of the program previously called More At Four. The state budget transferred the program from the state's education agency to DHHS and renamed it North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten.

The Associated Press reported last week that DHHS was already issuing similar instructions to local agencies administering the program.

More At Four last year served about 32,000 4-year-olds at risk of falling behind their peers, but a recent DHHS survey found there may be nearly twice that number of children eligible.

"If the funds that the General Assembly has provided are insufficient to cover the constitutional mandate for these services, I will call upon the legislature to appropriate additional funds to meet our obligation," Perdue said in a prepared statement. "However, if additional funds become necessary for NC Pre-K, the General Assembly must not inflict further cuts on other educational programs."

North Carolina officials have been under court pressure since a landmark 1997 state Supreme Court decision to improve student performance, and to prepare 4-year-olds at risk of falling behind their peers. Since 2002, the state has pointed to More At Four as satisfying the court's demands.

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

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said last week that the state health agency's instructions to accept all eligible comers risked spending money the state does not have. Leaders of the Republican-led Legislature had said after Manning's ruling they didn't expect it would force them to rewrite parts of the $19.7 billion state budget.

A key House budget-writer said Wednesday Republicans disputed both Manning's ruling and Perdue's authority to upset the spending plan's careful balance with her executive order. Legislative attorneys will look into whether a legal challenge to Perdue would be justified, said Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly.

"It seems like she's trying to create a line-item veto where she can pick and choose what she wants," Burr said.

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  • anima69316 Aug 18, 8:22 a.m.

    My kid is in the program too because Im active duty military, I can afford the co-pay easy but dont know about everyone else. Whether the program is the center of the universe or not is debatable, with the economic issues we are facing this program can be cut too but I would like to see many other programs stripped as well not just more at four. And when did the courts start running our education system? The justices think that its fine to restrict the legislative and executive powers but what about judicial power? Talk about judicial reform when we run by a oligarchy.

  • resia411 Aug 12, 3:43 p.m.

    I happen to work in a pre-k program. There is a lot of misconceptions about the parents and children in these programs. The majority of parents who have children in these programs are working or going to school inorder to provide a better life for their children. The children who come to our programs are there because there is a need for programs like these. We are not babysitters. We are providing a program to give all children an equal playing field when they get to kindergarten. The majority of our children already can write some letters, count, know some colors and shapes. So to say that parents are lazy and not working with them at home is simply not true. With the high cost of childcare and the lack thereof we are either going to pay for pre-k programs or pay for the parent to stay at home and care for them. I would rather have that parent out working or going to school than to pay them to sit at home all day.

  • Garnerwolf1 Aug 12, 11:13 a.m.

    Funny, an atheist quoting the Bible like that somehow justifies his liberality. The playing field is not level. But that's not govt's fault. It's the fault of the parents and that culture. We're already to the point that people can't pay for their own because of the taxes required to pay for someone else. What are the generations of people that have lived on govt handouts their entire lives going to do when the economy really does collapse and there are little to no taxes coming in?

  • jervin6 Aug 12, 10:13 a.m.

    It may be that a program such as this can and does benefit a "special needs" child, but the fact that the majority of children that qualify are not special needs in that respect and puts undue burden on the tax payer to fund a program that will not produce the benefits it claims in the long run. Perhaps more emphasis should be placed on children that have true learning disabilities rather than a perceived disability based on their parents income level. Yes, those children maybe economically disadvantaged but they don't have a learning disability. Mandating more resources be put into programs the government says will level the playing field for these children when studies show they don't is a waste of tax payers’ money. As far as the argument of investing in preK programs rather than paying later with an increase of entitlements and crime etc. Limiting those things only happens if the child stays in school and graduates which should be addressed with a better plan than preK.

  • jmeturner2007 Aug 11, 4:45 p.m.

    The problem is that Jim Hunt's babbysitting scheme of More at Four and Smart Start, are recently concocted programs that were not included in the spirit or word of the NC Constitution. - aetius476

    It is apparent that you have not done all the research on this program. It is not a Daycare! And there are some children who have disabilities that need this program in order to meet the requirements of Kindergarden. And not all of them are low-income, non-working, welfare people. My son needs this program and I work full-time, pay for private insurance, take him to a private therapist and yet he still needs additional help that I can not provide at home. So yes you need to stop complaining and complain about something more important... maybe an advocate for cancer funds or someone that can stop funding to the prisoners!

  • bugman27522 Aug 11, 4:26 p.m.

    Please somebody get that byotch out of the Governors office!

  • stanlycounty1 Aug 11, 4:25 p.m.

    So Justin Burr can afford to purchase $900 suits, $400 picture frames, $1,900 in furniture, $390 for LAMPS, etc . . . yet he opposes this legislation.

    Perhaps he should set aside 10% of his own income and buy his own suits.

    Source: http://gregflynn.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/the-little-man-in-the-brooks-brothers-suit/

  • mmancuso Aug 11, 2:57 p.m.

    This is just a mild, politically correct version of what's happening in London, where they're rioting because the government is cutting tax-payer funded entitlements. This is the problem with entitlements: those receiving them soon develop the attitude that they have a RIGHT to that money.

  • jeffdewitt Aug 11, 2:04 p.m.

    Just how is it a constitutional requirement that the taxpayers pay for ANYONE'S daycare?

    Our useless excuse for a governor can order state agencies to do whatever she likes, but that doesn't mean the Legislature has to cough up our tax dollars to pay for it.

  • gphotohound Aug 11, 11:42 a.m.

    If parents want their child to be in the program let them pay for it. Why do people think that because they what it that the tax PAYERS should pay . Maybe if they worked and paid their share there would be funds for the programs .

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