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Praise, wariness follows committee decision to slow down changes to Pre-K eligibility

The House Select Committee on Early Childhood Education Improvement voted Thursday morning to approve a revised set of recommendations on the NC Pre-K program. Unlike their initial draft report, the Committee’s final proposal does not recommend narrowing eligibility for NC Pre-K or privatizing the program.

The following is a statement from NC Justice Center Executive Director, Melinda Lawrence, on the committee’s recommendations:

“This morning the House Select Committee on Early Childhood Education Improvement demonstrated respect for the democratic process and responded to the public comment we and an array of other organizations submitted by passing revised recommendations for NC Pre-K.

We expressed deep concern regarding the House Select Committee’s prior draft recommendations that would cut off nearly 10,000 children from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to receive high-quality early learning at a critical time in their brain’s physical development and as they seek to reach key educational milestones. We also objected to the privatization proposal that would undermine a decade of work to connect prekindergarten through effective partnerships across pre-K, K-12 and higher education to efficiently, and in a results-based way, educate all young North Carolinians for future success.  And most basically, we were dismayed that the House Select Committee would want to divest from one of the most proven strategies to build economic opportunity in our state.

Today, we are appreciative of the House Select Committee’s efforts to take some of these concerns into account and slow down the process of restructuring NC Pre-K.

It is clear, however, that over the next few weeks and months, the central question of what poverty looks like and who experiences it will be at the core of the discussion over NC Pre-K’s future.

The N.C. Justice Center, and the Budget and Tax Center specifically, conducts research on poverty in North Carolina to explain the trends, causes and consequences of economic hardship in our state. We look forward to bringing this body of research to policymakers so that their efforts are guided by the facts and confront the very real challenges that North Carolinians face to make ends meet and get ahead.

There is no better time for this work. As more North Carolinians fall into poverty and poverty deepens for too many, North Carolina’s policymakers should discuss these issues with the facts in hand and an understanding of the solutions that are proven to make a difference. The strength and competitiveness of North Carolina’s economy will depend on their attention to this persistent challenge for our state.”

The Covenant with North Carolina’s Children offered this response:

“The committee chairs, Rep. Justin Burr and Rep. Rayne Brown, deserve credit for listening to child advocates and the public and slowing this process down,” stated Rob Thompson, Executive Director of the Covenant with North Carolina’s Children. “This is a good first step in a long process that we’ll continue to monitor closely.”

While debating the original proposal, Rep. George Cleveland took issue with the mention of poverty in the report and stated that “no one in North Carolina lives in extreme poverty.” Later in the meeting, he proposed an amendment that would remove the phrase “an increasing number of children living in poverty” from the report.

“Rep. Cleveland’s comments do not reflect reality in North Carolina. Right now, one in four children lives below the poverty line and over 10% live in extreme poverty,” said Thompson. “If we want to solve this problem, our state’s leader must admit we have a problem in the first place.”

After what appeared to be intervention from the Speaker’s office, Rep. Cleveland withdrew his amendment and the Committee voted unanimously to approve the revised proposal.

For county-level data on poverty, see the BTC Brief “Poverty Grows, Opportunity Declines.”

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