For months, North Carolina’s public prekindergarten program has been at the center of a fiscal, political, and legal showdown between the state’s Democratic governor, who wants to expand access, and Republicans in the legislature who have moved to limit it.
But Gov. Beverly Perdue seems to have won the latest round after announcing earlier this month that she would shift some $20 million in unspent funds in the state’s health and human-services budget to pay for enrolling an additional 6,300 4-year-olds in the prekindergarten program by Jan. 1. She said up to 1,000 children could be served immediately in existing programs, and the rest could be enrolled before the end of the year.
This is the second time this year that Gov. Perdue has used her executive authority to move money into the state’s pre-K program.
“Now more than ever, as we sit poised for an economic recovery, any delay in preparing our kids to be tomorrow’s workforce is simply unacceptable,” Gov.Perdue said in announcing the executive order.
The state’s public pre-K program provides full-day, early-education services to 4-year-olds whose “at risk” eligibility is determined by income level, special education needs, English-language-learner status, and whether they come from military families.
The turbulence started when the General Assembly slashed spending on the program by 20 percent in 2011, which cut more than 5,000 eligible 4-year-olds from the program. Legislators also tacked on a fee requirement as part of their strategy to close a budget shortfall. A state judge later ruled that the fee was unconstitutional and that the state must serve any eligible child who seeks to enroll, a decision that was upheld in anby a three-judge panel on the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
Republican lawmakers have said they will appeal that ruling to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Thecurrently serves about 25,000 children, which is down from a peak of about 35,000 children in 2010, according to the governor’s office.
Gov. Perdue is serving her final months in office after announcing earlier this year that she would not seek a second term.
A version of this article appeared in the October 31, 2012 edition of Education Week as Gov. Wins a Round In N.C. Pre-K Feud