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Judge: State cannot deny Pre-K to eligible at-risk children

Legislators who hoped to devote this week to redistricting may now find themselves revisiting the state budget.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. ruled Monday afternoon that North Carolina “shall not” enforce the 20% cap on More at Four that the Republican-controlled General Assembly approved.  That cap would have limited free tuition for state’s pre-kindergarten services to 20 percent of the number enrolled, with all other enrollees paying a fee.

Manning held a two-day hearing in late June to determine whether the $19.7 billion budget cut school  funding too deeply.

Specifically, attorneys for five low-wealth school districts (Hoke, Cumberland, Halifax, Robeson and Vance) asked Manning to issue an injunction that would stop changes to More at Four, now known as NC Pre-Kindergarten (NCPK).

The successful pre-kindergarten program took a 20% cut in the budget that took effect July 1st  and required a new co-pay for children to enroll.

Manning repeatedly said during the June hearing that his primary concern was whether the budget would prevent every child’s constitutional right to a sound, basic education.

In the 29-page order released Monday, Judge Manning wrote:

BASED ON THE FOREGOING, IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED
THAT:

1. The State of North Carolina shall not deny any eligible at-risk four
year old admission to the North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program
(NCPK) and shall provide the quality services of the NCPK to any
eligible at-risk four year old that applies.

2. The State of North Carolina shall not implement or enforce that
portion of the 2011 Budget Bill, section 10. 7. (f). that limits, restricts,
bars or otherwise interferes, in any manner, with the admission of all
eligible at-risk four year olds that apply to the prekindergarten
program, including but not limited to the 20% cap restriction, or for
that matter any percentage cap, of the four year olds served within
the prekindergarten program, NCPK.

3. Further, the State of North Carolina shall not implement, apply or
enforce any other artificial rUle, barrier, or regulation to deny any
eligible at-risk four year old admission to the prekindergarten
program, NCPK.

4. The Court is confident that the State of North Carolina will honor and
discharge its constitutional duties in connection with this matter.

It will now fall back to leaders in the General Assembly to determine how to interpret this ruling, and how it will impact the new budget.

You may recall at the time of the June hearing that Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis quipped: ““If Judge Manning wants to vote on the budget, he should run for office as a legislator.”

Nearly 35,000 at-risk students were served by More at Four in the 2010-11 school year.

To read the full order, click here.

Click here to view the NC Justice Center’s press release on the ruling.

 

7 Comments

  1. Kathleen Kowski

    July 18, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    I support the Judge in his ruling. The NCPK program should be available to all at no extra cost. It is a vital part of public education. Supporting our children in reaching their highest potential begins with a good foundation.
    Thank you Judge Manning.

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  3. Frances Jenkins

    July 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    I hope the 20% cuts will come from the high salaires in the administration of the program.

  4. Matt Ellinwood

    July 18, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Not so fast on the 20% cut. In fact, based on the ruling the current program should be expanded since Judge Manning said unequivocally that all at-risk four year olds who are eligible to participate must have access to the program and they cannot currently because there are not enough slots.

    This salaries argument is just a smoke screen to cover for the fact that there is no real argument against expanded access to prekindergarten. It has been singled out for its successes, which make it a threat to privatization, rather than its failures. It does what it is designed to do – improving educational attainment for at-risk students and improving the quality of prekindergarten programming for all students, whether they participate or not, based on thorough evaluations. It also provides a huge return on the state’s investment in the long run according to economists, including a Nobel Prize winner.

  5. Frances Jenkins

    July 18, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    You speak with a forked tongue. Give the money for children not for salaries over $100,000.00. I think Manning was saying the money must be for the children in need. The money should not go for political appointees of the Democrat party.

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  7. […] has ruled that the recent General Assembly budget that changed the parameters of the North Carolina preschool program for at-risk children called More at Four and moved it to the Department of Health and Human Services may not bar these children by charging […]