Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Supreme Court has agreed to determine whether the state can deny at-risk children access to public pre-kindergarten programs.
Superior Court Judge Howard Manning in 2011 threw out legislative changes to the early childhood education program that limited access and required parents to pick up part of the cost. He ruled that North Carolina has a constitutional duty to provide pre-kindergarten to at-risk 4-year-olds.
Lawmakers dropped those limitations last year, but Republican leaders still fought Manning's ruling, which could cost North Carolina $300 million a year.
The state Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Manning's ruling last August, saying that state can't erect artificial barriers to N.C. Pre-K. State lawmakers appealed the ruling, and the Supreme Court allowed the petition for discretionary review.
The state defines at-risk children as those 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.
Officials have estimated that 67,000 children would qualify for pre-kindergarten statewide, but only 26,000 of them are now enrolled.