Education

Does North Carolina Have to Provide Preschool? Court Decides

North Carolina’s highest court heard arguments Tuesday about the state’s promise of prekindergarten for tens of thousands of children living in poverty.
October 16, 2013
 

North Carolina’s highest court heard arguments Tuesday about the state’s promise of prekindergarten for tens of thousands of children living in poverty.

At issue is whether legislative cuts to the publicly funded pre-K program ran afoul of the state’s previous commitment to provide preschool for children at risk of failure in school.

The pre-K program, previously known as More at Four, was created in 2004 as a state response to court rulings in the long-running Leandro school quality lawsuit brought by poor counties. In the 19-year-old case, courts found that there is a constitutional right for all children to have a “sound, basic education.”

Tuesday’s oral arguments focused on whether the state has an obligation to provide public preschool to all low-income, at-risk North Carolina schoolchildren. For years, the state increased funding for the program, but in 2011, the legislature cut the program and placed limits on eligibility.

Later that year, Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. ruled that the state could not deny access or erect such barriers to poor children. Though the legislature eventually dropped some of the eligibility limits, Manning’s ruling was upheld by the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The state Supreme Court did not issue a ruling Tuesday, but justices asked plenty of questions in the packed courtroom.

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