Schools say NC cannot ignore pre-kindergarten commitment

Posted October 15, 2013

— Advocates for poor school districts across North Carolina said Tuesday that state officials cannot ignore a promise they made nine years ago to provide pre-kindergarten classes to at-risk students statewide.

The plea came during oral arguments before the North Carolina Supreme Court in a case that could require the state to open up its NC Pre-K program to every needy 4-year-old who applies, which some have estimated could cost the state $300 million a year – more than double what it now spends.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who has handled school funding cases for years, ruled in 2011 that the state couldn't restrict access to NC Pre-K, which was known then as More at Four. The state Court of Appeals upheld that decision last year.

John Maddrey, an appellate lawyer for the state Attorney General's Office, argued Tuesday that both Manning and the appeals court went against a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that said there is no constitutional right to pre-kindergarten classes. The state created the More at Four program that same year only to address the needs of poor students in Hoke County that were raised in that case, he said, noting that Manning then used "expansive language" to mandate it statewide.

"It's clear that the state has a statewide system of pre-kindergarten services," Maddrey said. "What it does not have is a universal, all-inclusive, expansive program sufficient to serve up to 67,000 enrollees, and that's what the trial court's order in this case requires."

NC Pre-K enrolled about 25,000 children in 2012, down from about 35,000 in 2010 after lawmakers cut its funding by 20 percent and imposed other restrictions. A September 2012 survey found that nearly 12,000 children were waiting for Pre-K services. It's unclear how many children are in the program this year.

State Supreme Court: Pre-K case Supreme Court hears NC Pre-K case

Justices quizzed Maddrey about the development of More at Four, noting that lawmakers and the administration of former Gov. Mike Easley came up with the program to help settle some issues in the long-running Leandro lawsuits – they're named for the family that first sued over inequitable school funding.

Maddrey responded that creating More at Four doesn't create an obligation for the state to fund it for everyone, although providing such access would be an ultimate goal if funding were available.

Melanie Dubis, an attorney for the school districts, scoffed at that suggestion, saying that, if universal access is just an aspiration, state officials are violating the North Carolina constitution, which calls for equal education for all students.

"The state is saying ... we aspire to it, we’ll get around to it, it’s on our to-do list, eventually, maybe, to remedy a constitutional violation," Dubis said.

She also disputed Maddrey's claim that More at Four was designed only for Hoke County, saying other poor districts never sued the state over pre-kindergarten because of the program was being implemented statewide.

"The state did fashion a remedy to meet the constitutional deficiency that this court found with respect to at-risk 4-year-olds," she said. "The state, having chosen that remedy of access to at-risk 4-year-olds, cannot now disregard the mandates of Leandro II and bar access to that remedy."

Former Gov. Mike Easley Easley: Pre-K right thing to do, will help NC

The State Board of Education sided with the poor districts in the case, and attorney Jim Exum, a former Supreme Court chief justice, said state officials haven't come up with another plan to aid at-risk students, so they must allow anyone eligible for NC Pre-K to enroll.

"They did not commit to a mere plan or a mere program that the state could willy-nilly provide and take away," Exum said. "They committed to a remedy – a remedy for a constitutional violation that this court identified in Leandro II.

"The defendants can always come up with another remedy, but until they come with another remedy, they can't abrogate or denigrate or take away the one they've chosen," he said.

Easley, who was part of the standing-room only crowd for the hearing, filed a brief with the court supporting the expansion of NC Pre-K. Afterward, he said the early classes are a model for the nation, having closed the achievement gap among poor students by 60 percent.

"This isn't just a matter of the economy and education. This is a chance for every child to reach their God-given potential," Easley said. "You have to recognize young children are perishable commodities, and you can’t just sit them on the shelf for two years and hope for better economic times. You find the money."


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  • Krimson Oct 22, 2013


    I read your study (Abecedarian by Bacharach). Interesting stuff...

    While the results in 1977 were that Pre-K was ineffective, the follow-ups indictate:

    (age 21): increase of 1.8 grade levels in reading achievement, increase of 1.3 grade levels in math achievement, modest increase in Full-Scale IQ (4.4 pts) and in Verbal IQ (4.2 pts), completion of a half-year more of education, higher percentage enrolled in school at age 21 (42% vs. 20%), higher percentage attended/still attending 4-year college (36% vs. 14%), higher percentage engaged in skilled jobs (47% vs. 27%), lower percentage of teen-aged parents (26% vs. 45%), reduction of criminal activity.

    (age 30): 4 times more likely to have graduated from a 4-year college (23% vs. 6%), more likely to have been employed consistently over the previous two years (74% vs. 53%), 5 times less likely to have used public assistance in the previous 7 years (4% vs. 20%), delayed becoming parent by average of almost 2 years.

  • Krimson Oct 21, 2013

    BTW, when you Vote against Pre-K, you are Voting to rescind resources for a child that "has at least one parent or legal guardian who is an active duty member of the armed forces of the United States, the North Carolina National Guard or other state military force, or a Reserve Unit of the armed forces, and who is ordered to active duty by the proper authority within the last 18 months, or expected to be ordered within the next 18 months. A child whose parent or legal guardian has been seriously injured or killed while on active duty is also eligible." - Wake County SmartStart website

  • Krimson Oct 21, 2013

    WEIN: "of course people will suck on to anything that is "FREE", to them."

    Its not "free to them". They pay their Taxes the same as you. If you qualified for these programs, they would be free to you as well. This isn't about "us vs. them", its only about "us"...

  • Krimson Oct 21, 2013

    immaannoid: "Effective how? Bartik is an economist"

    You don't think an Economist can use Math to explain how improving the education level of the general populace can improve the overall well-being of the economy??? That is their bread and butter, and its sad that you don't understand that...

    As for Bartik (per Hamilton Project):

    "Timothy J. Bartik is a Senior Economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. His research focuses on state and local economic development and local labor markets, including research in the following areas: evaluating economic development programs, how investment in early childhood programs affects local economies, the benefits of higher education institutions for local economic development, and alternative policies for increasing labor demand for the poor."

    I don't need to defend him. Until you have real evidence to refute if research, your arguments mean nothing...

  • BernsteinIII Oct 17, 2013

    "There is a ton of data out there about the effectiveness of Pre-K, some of which comes out of Duke and UNC. Google "Timothy Bartik Investing In Kids" and start reading."

    Effective how? Bartik is an economist; please explain to me how an economist can possibly have the training or the background to determine if social programs are effective?

    Do you go to a Dentist to get your haircut too?


  • Krimson Oct 17, 2013

    "There is also a ton of data out there showing that it is not effective."

    I provided at starting point, where is yours???

  • Gen1 Oct 17, 2013

    unless it has changed they can't "teacher" the kids anything in the Pre-k programs so what would be the purpose anyway other than making sure they have food. It has been awhile since I visited a program but that is all I saw they got. That could be and is provided via the WIC program and Food stamp program.

  • whatelseisnew Oct 17, 2013

    "There is a ton of data out there about the effectiveness of Pre-K, some of which comes out of Duke and UNC. Google "Timothy Bartik Investing In Kids" and start reading."

    There is also a ton of data out there showing that it is not effective. The real truth is, this provides free day care and of course people will suck on to anything that is "FREE", to them.

  • whatelseisnew Oct 17, 2013

    Teachers that are clamoring for pay raises, if this kind of massive expansion happens, forget it. You already will likely not see a raise because of the ACA, this will just be one more roadblock.

  • whatelseisnew Oct 17, 2013

    The correct action is to eliminate this program. Provide it only to people that pay the cost as is done in the private Pre-ks. Another massive expansion of the public system is the last thing the private sector worker needs put on their backs. Quite amazing really, it already takes too many years to get to a H.S. diploma. Instead of shrinking the timeline, which can be done, the opposite direction is being pushed, extend the timeline. So what comes next, can we expect newborn K? The mother can birth the child, hand it over to a Government worker and then just go home.