On Aug. 20, the North Carolina Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Judge Howard Manning, Jr.’s, ruling that the state cannot initiate any regulation that prevents eligible at-risk four-year-olds from enrolling in the state’s prekindergarten program.
This ruling was in response to a 20 percent budget cut from Republican authorship.
According to Chris Hill, the director of the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, N.C.’s Pre-K program is widely considered one of the most effective in the nation. The North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program (NCPK) is effective in eliminating the gap for “at risk” students before entering kindergarten, as the state’s own research suggests.
In 2010, there were more than 65,000 four-year-olds in North Carolina who qualified as “at-risk.” These children are considered “at risk” based mainly on their parents’ low income status.
One year before the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruling, the N.C. legislature enacted what would be a 20 percent budget cut to NCPK. This motion would be taken to court.
Fearing that this would equal a 20 percent reduction in enrollment, Judge Howard Manning, Jr., issued an order prohibiting the legislation from moving forward.
“This case is about the individual right of every child to have the equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education,” Manning said in the order. “The constitutional right belongs to the child, not to the adults. Each at-risk four-year-old that appears at the doors of the program this fall is a defenseless, fragile child whose background of poverty or disability places the child at-risk of subsequent academic failure.”
The Manning order could be read to mean that all “at-risk” children have a right to prekindergarten if they choose to enlist in the program. Around one year later, Manning’s decision would be supported by the North Carolina Court of Appeals when opposition challenged the decision at the appellant level.
Terry Richardson, the director of Ashe County’s pre-k system, said that preschool programs have already been cut across the state. Although, not by 20 percent.
Ashe County’s Early Childhood Development Center is an affiliate of NCPK. When asked if the ruling changed anything locally, Richardson said, “Not at this time.” However, Richardson is still waiting to hear from the Department of Child Development to gain more insight into the effects of the ruling.
If the local pre-k system had a greater influx of children than the budget would allow, those services would be withheld from some children. Those unfortunate few would be put on a waiting list.
Currently, Ashe County’s preschool program doesn’t have a waiting list. Every child that is considered “at risk” and wants to enlist in preschool can do so.
Richardson expressed joy in that fact, saying, “We want to make sure that children are cared for and that we strive to serve every child.”