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March 16, 2012

Committee makes Pre-K recommendations

Friday, March 16, 2012 — The N.C. House Select Committee on Early Childhood Education Improvement, co-chaired by Rep. Justin Burr and Rep. Rayne Brown, has released its recommendations regarding NC Pre-K to the General Assembly.

The new legislative proposal differs from the original draft, which stirred up some controversy for what many considered to be an attempt to limit access to Pre-K for those children who were most at risk.

The original report would have defined the term “at risk,” for the purposes of eligibility in the NC Pre-K program, as a child who is 4 years of age on or before Aug. 31 of the program year;

Who is currently being served, or has been served in the past year, by a child protective agency;

Has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as defined in N.C.G.S. 115C-106.3(8); or

Whose family income is between 0-100 percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines.

According to the federal government’s poverty guidelines, a family of four with an annual income of $22,000 is considered to be at the poverty level.

Under current state guidelines, a 4-year-old is considered “at risk” if the child’s family makes less than $51,000 a year.

According to Barbara Whitley, executive director of the Stanly County Partnership for Children, she had concerns about the criteria being a little low. Whitley explained that under the original draft, approximately 40 percent of children currently enrolled in Pre-K would not have been eligible under the proposed guidelines. Of the 289 slots filled in the NC Pre-K program this year, 117 of those would not have been eligible.

After gathering public input, according to the revised report, the committee elected to remove the “at risk” clarification and recommended that the “General Assembly establish eligibility criteria for the NC Pre-K program to target children with the greatest needs.”

Another proposal which was met with some controversy was the suggestion that the NC Pre-K program be removed from schools and placed into private child care facilities (with exceptions).

The revised proposal recommends that NC Pre-K classrooms be located in a wide range of settings, including: for profit, not for profit, faith based, Head Start, or public school classrooms, with site locations based on local capacity, quality, assurance of parental choice and accessibility and use of federal funds.

Prior to the March 1 meeting of the committee, which revised the proposal, Associate Superintendent of Stanly County Schools Dr. Terry Griffin hoped that the new changes in legislation would allow the private and public sector to continue to partner to provide a balance of services in the county.

“Stanly County Schools, our local Partnership for Children, Head Start and private providers in Stanly County have partnered to provide a range of Pre-K options to our community,” Griffin said.

Other recommendations in the new proposal include:

Requiring that pre-kindergarten teachers obtain a Birth-Kindergarten teacher license. Licensure approval should be partly based on demonstration of competencies in early language and literary instruction;

Agencies involved in the provision of services and supports to young children and their families should work collaboratively with the Department of Public Instruction to build upon the K-12 data base system to follow child development and process across agencies; and

To continue funding early childhood programs to meet the needs of a growing population and an increasing number of children living in poverty.

Burr was not available for comment for this story.

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