State News

NC readies for pre-kindergarten storm

Posted August 3, 2011
Updated August 17, 2011

— North Carolina's effort to prepare all 4-year-olds to compete in school is readying for what may be thousands of newcomers and a potential problem paying for a program legislative Republicans wanted to cut by 20 percent.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. ruled last month that there are about twice as many eligible at-risk 4-year-olds than were served last year, and none can be turned away. The judge overseeing a long-running education lawsuit ordered that any barrier to enrolling at-risk children "may not be enforced."

The Department of Health and Human Services is responding to the ruling by telling local agencies administering the newly revamped North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten program to accept all comers, though no one knows the potential cost. The agency also told providers not to begin collecting a co-payment of up to 10 percent of parents' income. The money was supposed to offset some of the lost taxpayer funding.

"Judge Manning says that the state is going to have to fund this, so I do not know how that's going to happen," Smart Start of Mecklenburg County executive director Jane Meyer said Wednesday.

Meyer co-chairs a local committee that allocates resources for Mecklenburg County's public pre-kindergarten program. The committee last week decided that state budget cuts meant it would have to cut slots for 212 children while also trimming payments to child care centers, a decision Meyer said will now be revisited.

The department's Division of Child Development and Early Education said in a letter last week it "is currently evaluating the potential demand of services and the associated cost for serving all at-risk eligible 4-year-olds with the same high-quality program standards that have existed."

In another letter to providers this week, the division said one struggle in the weeks ahead is finding enough classroom slots taught by licensed teachers. Local agencies were told to use the money already budgeted to them, then state officials would take stock of any additional demand and figure out how to fill that need.

"This will be a process that could span several months," the letter said.

The General Assembly's fiscal analysts were still working on an estimate of the cost of educating all eligible 4-year-olds and don't know how many additional children would appear, principal fiscal analyst Lisa Hollowell said.

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. News of the agency's moves riled Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, who said DHHS risked spending money the state does not have.

"We absolutely disagree with the governor's interpretation of this order and have received nothing from her or the DHHS secretary on this matter," he said in a statement. Gov. Beverly Perdue agrees with Manning that every eligible child should have access to quality academic programs and lawmakers haven't addressed how every child would be served.

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 a program called More At Four as satisfying the court's demands.

More At Four defined those at risk and 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.

More At Four served about 32,000 children during the last academic year, but Manning estimated there are up to 67,000 eligible at-risk 4-year-olds.

The state budget that took effect this month cuts funding for the program renamed NC Pre-Kindergarten and shifted it from the state's education agency to the DHHS child development division, which also runs a voucher program that helps workers and students pay child care costs.

Private child care center operators are still in the dark about whether the state agency's direction to enroll every eligible child will be paid by cutting rates paid to them, said Kevin Campbell, president and owner of Smart Kids' Child Development Centers in the Charlotte area.

"I think it's very much up in the air," said Campbell, who faced a rate cut totaling $16,000 for the more than 70 children taught in two of his centers.


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  • Bob3425 Aug 4, 2011

    smalldogsrule -- I agree with you, I also like to see where it say the state has to pay for pre school? What about parents paying for their own childred education before 1 and after 12th grade, we can't afford this.

  • ncguy Aug 4, 2011

    When my kids were in pre K and one infant the cost was outrages!

    The problem is that day cares have to make a certain amount of money to stay afloat so when the government makes them take a certain percentage of more at 4 kids the rest of us have to pay the difference. If the daycare didn't my cost would have been substantially less.

    Oh and here is the best part- a lot of the kids parents were from South America- if you know what I am saying. Golo police...

  • jerseygirl0266 Aug 4, 2011

    kizzykeith I do agree with you. also I sent my daughter to pre-k and she is now going in the 3rd grade and she is well above average every 4 yr old should get the shot to go to further there education...... =)

  • jerseygirl0266 Aug 4, 2011

    kizzykeith No not all of us can afford it but my point is why should some parents get a free ride when people like me have to pay 10% of my paycheck to send my son cause we don't meet the requirements thats not fair so again i'm all for this program

  • Rebelyell55 Aug 4, 2011

    August 4, 2011 8:34 a.m.
    I would think you would be proud of the fact that your child does not need the more at four program. Keep up the good work.

  • kizzykeith Aug 4, 2011

    I might be going out on a limb right now but I going to say that all of you guys can afford to send your children to private school right?

  • kizzykeith Aug 4, 2011

    I would like to say that my child took part in th more at four program the year before last and is now going to the 1st grade. She did very well in the program and I think it brought her out of her shell. She was one of the brightest children in her class that exceeded in math, reading and writing. So to all those who want to point the finger and this program and toss it out as to saying it is not worth it, I disagree with you and welcome your rebutals.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Aug 4, 2011

    I paid to send my children to pre-school. Why should I be forced through my taxes to pay to send other people's children to pre-school.

    What happened to personal responsibility in this country.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Aug 4, 2011

    The problem with more at four is that the benefits of the program seem to go away around 2nd or 3rd grade and then the more at four kids continually perform worse than their peers.

    Education starts in the home. Until education is valued in the home in lower socio-economic levels of our society, the problem isn't going to be fixed no matter how much money you throw at the problem.

    More at four is essentially taxpayer paid childcare for those on welfare and government assistance.

  • ncguy Aug 4, 2011

    another entitlement program.

    forced down our throats by liberals.