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Pre-k changes threaten public school participation

The ramifications of the budget evisceration of More at Four is becoming clear for public schools. The introduction of co-pays not only puts an effective bar on participation for many low-income children, it needlessly prohibits the combination of federal and state pre-k dollars. This knocks a significant amount of money out of the pre-k system, and threatens public school participation in pre-k.

In addition, the budget insistence on dual regulatory standards for public schools brings new compliance costs and obstacles to public school participation.

The difficulties in Guilford County are illustrative. From an article in the Greensboro News and Record comes this:

“Last year, the district spent $6.4 million on preschool for students without disabilities. About $5 million of that came from More at Four, which serves students based on income. The rest came from Title I, which serves students based on academic need.

As in past years, the school system blended both revenue streams to pay for the classrooms, but a new state law requires parents to pay a portion of the cost of state-funded preschool programs. Federal law prohibits co-pays for preschool seats funded by Title I.

That means the district might have to either cut seats or forgo all of its state funds and instead rely on carryover in its Title I budget. That’s a short-term solution because the carryover will run out during the upcoming school year.

“We’re talking about a one-time fix for this,” said Sharon Ozment, the district’s chief financial officer.

“Next year could be really bad. We could have a $6.4 million problem if the More at Four money goes away and we don’t have that Title I carryover,” Ozment said.

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