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The push to privatize Pre-K heats up

[1]Supporters of early childhood education who applauded Gov. Perdue’s decision to add 2,000 slots to Pre-K this year, may have less to celebrate after Thursday. That’s when the House Select Committee on Early Childhood Education [2]Improvement [2] meets to consider a draft report that would shift NC Pre-K toward privatization.

The Committee, co-chaired by Representatives Justin Burr [3] (R-Stanly) and Rayne Brown [4] (R-Davidson) would clarify the definition of “at-risk” to limit the eligibility for Pre-K classes to children whose families are  at or below the federal government’s poverty guidelines. (For comparison, 4-year-olds from a family of four with an income of around $50,000 are currently eligible for program. Under the House committee’s new proposal the threshold would be lowered to $22,000.)

In 2013, the legislative proposal would shift the NC prekindergarten program away from the public schools, if favor of licensed, private child care operations.

Here’s an excerpt from the draft report:

SECTION 3. Beginning July 1, 2013, local school administrative units 1 shall not  serve as contract administrators for the NC Pre-K program.

SECTION 4. It is the intent of the General Assembly that NC Pre-K 3 classrooms be provided within licensed private child care centers exclusively. To that end:

(1) The Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Child Development and Early Education, shall develop a plan to phase out the prekindergarten program in public school classrooms. The Division of Child Development and Early Education shall report on the phase out plan to the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services, the Senate Appropriations/Base Budget Committee on Health and Human Services, and the Fiscal Research Division no later than December 1, 2012. The report shall include the impact to all counties, specifically those counties that will be adversely affected by the plan.

(2) Beginning the 2013-2014 academic school year, the Division of Child Development and Early Education shall begin implementing the phase out plan. However, the Division may extend the phase out period for those counties it
determines will be greatly impacted by the phase out.

As part of the transition, the Division of Child Development and Early Education  shall require the NC Pre-K contractor to issue multiple-year contracts for licensed private child care centers providing NC Pre-K classrooms.

Dr. Bill Harrison, chair of the State Board of Education, said he was “disappointed” that some members of the General Assembly continue to push this critical piece of public education one step closer to privatization.

He goes on to write [5]:

…by removing all pre-k programs from public schools, lawmakers would be funneling more taxpayer dollars to for-profit, private daycare centers. Some of these organizations are focused more on the bottom line then the children served. To keep profits coming in, some private centers will cut corners and sacrifice the high quality academic program all NC Pre-K programs should provide.  In addition, the Committee members failed to consider input from local school districts (many of which already run successful NC Pre-K programs) when they were drafting their report and they have not yet shared any research on which they based their recommendations.

The House Select Committee on Early Childhood Education Improvement  meets at 9:00am March 1st in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building. You can read a full .pdf copy of the committee’s most recent draft report here [6].