North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue today 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 to be served immediately in Pre-K classrooms across the state.
The governor made the announcement today at the Early Childhood Center of the West Market United Methodist Church in downtown Greensboro, where she was joined by Robin Britt, executive director of Guilford Child Development, Teri Smith, program administrator at the Early Childhood Center, and Kim Hughes, a former North Carolina teacher of the year.
On August 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 old 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 reminder 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."
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 NC Pre-K. 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 NC 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."