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National Report: North Carolina Slipping in Pre-K Programs

April 10, 2012

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - The severe budget cuts to North Carolina's early childhood education programs seen last year are already making their mark, at least when it comes to perception of the state's programs. A report released today by the National Institute for Early Education Research finds that North Carolina's cuts to programs such as More at Four, now known as NC Pre-K and Smart Start, are impacting the state's ability to meet the needs of its families. Each of those programs saw roughly a 20 percent cut to its budget last year.

Greg Borom, Director of Advocacy for Children First of Buncombe County, sees the effect first-hand.

"What we've seen happen in Buncombe County and around the state is that the waiting lists have really grown but the availability has really shrunk."

There is still some positive news for the state. North Carolina is one of only five states that meets all the quality standards criteria set by NIEER and ranks 19th among states in terms of enrolling children in early childhood education programs. Almost 31,000 children are enrolled in the state's pre-K programs.

Jim Squires, a Senior Research Fellow at NIEER who helped prepare the report, is cautious.

"We know that pre-K works. There's concern that the very fine programs that North Carolina has developed are going to be subject to some revisions."

Last year when North Carolina's More at Four program was renamed NC Pre-K and moved under the Department of Health and Human Services, some controversy emerged about the definition of what children would be eligible for the newly-named program. That legal issue is ongoing in the state Supreme Court.

Nationwide, the NIEER study found that state funding for pre-K has decreased by $60 million in the last year. This is the second year of decline in total spending.

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC