RALEIGH — Gov. Beverly Perdue issued an executive order on Thursday shifting $20 million in projected spare funds to allow more 4-year olds in the state’s pre-kindergarten academic enrichment program, previously known as More At Four.
Figures supplied by the governor’s office suggest the state Pre-K now enrolls about 25,000 children, down from 35,000 in 2010. This pre-dated the funding cuts. Estimates have suggested 67,000 children statewide may be eligible. The program was created to help those at risk of falling behind their peers due to chronic health problems.
“After the General Assembly cut early education program by 20 percent, thousands of our youngest students were cut out of the Pre-K classroom. Today we can welcome them in,” indicated Perdue in a prepared statement.
According to additional information supplied from the Governor’s office, on Aug. 21 the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued a decision in the case captioned Hoke County Board of Education et al v. State of North Carolina affirming an order from the state Superior Court mandating the unrestricted acceptance of all at-risk 4-year-old prospective enrollees who seek to enroll in existing pre-kindergarten programs in their counties.
The governor’s order includes a section calling on the department to accommodate up to another 6,300 4-year-olds in the program which encompasses 100 counties. No official statement was made on how these slots would be divided out among the state’s counties.
Perdue’s office indicated extra funding will be shifted from other areas within the Department of Health and Human Services where lawmakers moved the program’s administration. The money would be distributed to counties before Perdue’s four-year team ends this year to fund the expanded enrollment through the rest of the current academic year.
“If given the opportunity to receive funding for serving additional at-risk Pre-K students, Surry County Schools will make every effort possible to include additional students in our programs. We are currently complying with the state request to determine the space availability in our schools and the requests for Pre-K placements in our district,” said Dr. Terri Mosley, assistant superintendent, Instructional Services, Surry County School System.
Mosley also indicated the expansion of the program is not as simple as receiving funding as the standards required for Pre-K classrooms are different than those of regular classrooms. She said given reasonable parameters, Surry County Schools will try its best to meet the needs of the children in the school district.
Mount Airy City Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Little said his office had not received any information on the executive order and so he could not comment on the proposal at press time.