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