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Court Makes Move to Protect Early Childhood Education

July 22, 2011

RALEIGH, N. C. - A North Carolina court has issued a landmark ruling this week, recognizing the importance of education for children ages birth to five. Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, Jr., cited evidence that children who receive early childhood education perform better later in life.

The decision comes after the State Assembly cut funding this summer to the state's prekindergarten programs, known as "Smart Start" and "More at Four." Five high-poverty school districts had challenged what they called "extreme" cuts to the programs in court. On Monday, the judge ruled the state cannot implement any barrier or regulation that would prevent eligible children from enrolling in the program.

Dr. Olson Huff, board chair of the North Carolina Partnership for Children, believes this is the first time a court has acknowledged the role of early learning, beginning at birth.

"This ruling, which basically says that you have to provide appropriate intervention from the very beginning of life, is a monumental move."

Huff notes that North Carolina's pre-K programs have served as models for the development of others around the country and internationally. He thinks the ruling will have an almost immediate impact on pre-K enrollment for the upcoming school year.

"If the letter of the law is carried out, it would appear to me that the legislature will have to put in more money into the program, will have to restore some of the cuts."

In his ruling, Judge Manning cited recent research from Duke University that showed North Carolina third-graders have higher standardized reading and math scores, and lower special education placement rates, in counties that received more funding for Smart Start and More at Four when those children were younger. He also said the constitutional right to equal educational opportunity belongs to each individual child.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC