North Carolina is now able to offer pre-kindergarten education to thousands of additional four-year-olds across the state.
Gov. Bev Perdue issued an executive order allocating $20 million to the expansion of the North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program last week, following a court decision mandating that the state cannot deny at-risk four-year-olds from enrolling in the program. The money will pay for 6,300 additional children to enroll in Pre-K throughout North Carolina by Jan. 1—though 1,000 of them should be able to enroll immediately. The $20 million for the program comes from projected unspent funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, as opposed to early education programs, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
“This is about making sure four-year-olds have access to preparation for their education. They’re only four years old once,” said Chris Mackey, deputy communications director for the governor’s office.
N.C. Pre-K, previously called More at Four, is a state-funded program dedicated to school readiness, with approximately 25,000 children currently enrolled. The program runs 6 1/2 hours per day, 180 days out of the year.
Mackey noted an Aug. 21 order from the North Carolina Court of Appeals as a reason for the additional funding. The Court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that the state cannot deny at-risk four-year-olds access to the N.C. Pre-K program.
“Simply put, it is the duty of the State of North Carolina to protect each and every one of these at-risk and defenseless children and to provide them... a sound basic education as guaranteed by the North Carolina constitution,” the ruling stated.
Students who are members of low-income families, receive free or reduced-cost lunches, have parents with low-level education or live in a single-parent household, among other qualifications, are considered at-risk and may qualify for the program. Other four-year-olds who are not currently enrolled in a preschool program may also be eligible to enroll.
“Through good economic times and bad, North Carolina’s enduring commitment has been to educate our children,” Perdue noted in the release. “Now more than ever, as we sit poised for an economic recovery, any delay in preparing our kids to be tomorrow’s workforce is simply unacceptable.”
The Durham Partnership for Children administers the N.C. Pre-K program in Durham County and operates about 20 classrooms for Pre-K students.
“It directs funding for children to attend high-quality preschool programs, and they are also very helpful with teachers, assisting them in improving nutrition, going back to school and training them to become better teachers,” said Barbara Jentleson, assistant professor of the practice of education. “It’s win-win for everyone.”
A member of the Durham Partnership for Children Allocations Committee, Jentleson noted the frequent need to cut the budget, despite the need to provide support to successfully prepare students for kindergarten. She praised the state government for the recent $20 million increase in funding for Pre-K education—on top of a $9.3 million grant in February—and its commitment to further provide high quality education for low-income children.
“It is the best value for your dollar to invest in early education,” Jentleson said. “This will get us back on track for the funding we need.”