N.C. lawmakers on a House panel wisely backed off recommendations last month that would have taken away access to state pre-kindergarten programs from thousands of poor N.C. children. The panels draft report had included recommendations to dramatically raise the income eligibility guidelines a change that would disqualify many financially struggling families from participating. Members also backed away from a recommendation that state pre-K be provided solely in private child care facilities not in public schools.
Still, it was clear that some lawmakers thought the ideas had merit and plan to pursue them especially the move to privatize pre-kindergarten. We hope and urge the public and policymakers to stand firm against such moves. A new report from the N.C. Justice Centers N.C. Budget and Tax Center provides good ammunition to explain why keeping pre-K in public schools has merit.
Findings from that study released last week show that public schools play a major role in North Carolinas pre-K program. In 17 counties, 100 percent of the pre-K slots were in public schools as of January of this year. Those counties are rural and most are high-poverty.
Additionally, more than half (58) of the states counties rely on public schools for more than half of their pre-K slots. Only 6 out of these 58 counties Alamance, Catawba, Davidson, Forsyth, Gaston and New Hanover, are not rural.
The impact on rural counties is evident. Privatizing this program would mean no pre-kindergarten for many of them, particularly since these rural, high-poverty counties dont have networks of private child-care centers where pre-K could be housed instead.
To N.C. lawmakers like Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, that might not matter much. Cleveland, a member of the House panel considering this matter, made the astounding claim last month that no N.C. children live in extreme poverty. His county has a child poverty rate of 22 percent and none of its 528 pre-K slots is in a public school setting.
But rural counties such as Halifax County have significantly higher child poverty rates 36.7 percent and 100 percent of its 209 pre-K slots are in public schools. Edgecombe County, with a child poverty rate of 38.7 percent, has nearly 67 percent of its 345 slots in public schools. Robeson County, with a child poverty rate of 45.5 percent, has more than half of its 856 slots in public schools.
We all benefit when children get the right start educationally that pre-kindergarten helps provide, especially for low-income children who often dont have access to books and other resources needed to learn effectively. Students can build on that good start throughout their school careers; those who start off behind and get little or no help too often remain behind and many times drop out and dont finish high school. Those high school dropouts are more likely to end up on the public dole and costing taxpayers rather than becoming taxpayers.
N.C. lawmakers should think long and hard about those consequences before rolling out these proposals and pushing them again. The rest of us must stand ready to remind and stop them.