Projected DHHS unspent funds will pay for enrollment spots
Last week, Gov. Bev Perdue issued Executive Order No. 128 authorizing the expansion of the NC Pre-K program to serve up to 6,300 additional children by Jan. 1, 2013. An estimated 1,000 of those children can begin being served immediately in Pre-K classrooms across the state.
On Aug. 21, the North Carolina Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a lower court ruling mandating that the State not deny any eligible “at-risk” four-year-olds admission to the North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten program.
“Through good economic times and bad, North Carolina’s enduring commitment has been to educate our children. 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. “After the General Assembly cut early education programs by 20 percent, thousands of our youngest students were cut out of the Pre-K classroom. Today we can welcome many of them in.”
Gov. Perdue identified $20 million in projected unspent funds from the Department of Health and Human Services to pay for the enrollment slots. None of the money comes from early education programs. The funding will be distributed to counties prior to the end of 2012 to fund expanded enrollment through the remainder of the 2012-2013 academic year.
DHHS Acting Secretary Al Delia is encouraging counties that have available slots in existing classrooms to enroll those children now.
“There is a brief window of time in which we can help these children,” Delia said. “Once they turn five, we’ve missed our opportunity to help them be better prepared for kindergarten and the rest of their educational careers.”
According to Macon County Exceptional Children Program Coordinator Paula Ledford, Macon County sent in a request last Friday and asked the state to fund an additional 18 slots. “We know that we have children in the district who would benefit greatly from the Pre-K program and we want to do everything we can to see that that happens,” said Ledford.
Macon County Intermin Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan noted that there are currently 350 children enrolled in kindergarten throughout the district. Based on those numbers, the 51 students being served by the county's Pre-K program and an estimated 100 children at Macon Program for Progress, there are about 200 children that are left without any education opportunities.
“One of the real issues is that nearly half of the kids in the county come to us without learning how to read, knowing their colors or the alphabet,” said Dr. Duncan. “I wish the state would fund Pre-K like it should be funded, but we are very excited about the possibilities to reach more children. It may not be a lot for us, but we are happy for any assistance that can help serve more students in our community.”
The North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program (formerly known as More at Four) is a state-funded pre-kindergarten program designed to prepare at-risk four-year-olds in North Carolina for success in school.
Almost 25,000 children are currently enrolled in Pre-K in N.C. Preliminary conversations with less than half of the 91 local Pre-K contract administrators have found that there is capacity to immediately serve more than 1,000 additional children.
“Until every at-risk child who wants to be in N.C. Pre-K is enrolled, the state hasn’t done enough,” said Gov. Perdue. “But today at least we are making progress towards fulfilling our legal – and moral – obligation to our children.”