From the North Carolina News Service
by Stephanie Carroll Carson
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – As many North Carolina children enjoy their spring break, there are more than 10,000 of them in the state who were not able to attend preschool this year, as a result of state budget cuts to the program. North Carolina offers vouchers to parents who attend school or work full-time, but there are not enough slots for everyone.
According to Jacque Penick, executive director of the Mountain Area Child and Family Center in Asheville, it’s a frustrating situation for families.
“There is no guarantee that you will get a child-care voucher for your child, even if you qualify, because there’s not enough money there,” she stated.
Penick said that many parents have had their work hours cut to part-time by employers, which disqualifies them from the voucher program. In those cases, she said, her center works to raise private funds so the children can remain in preschool. Governor Pat McCrory’s budget proposal adds spots for 5,000 children to the state’s pre-kindergarten program, but must be approved by the Legislature.
A 2011 Superior Court ruling found the state could not deny early childhood education to at-risk four-year-olds, but the decision has been hung up in the court system since then. This month, the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
Penick said the budget for early childhood education has been drastically reduced in the past five years, even though the need is greater than ever.
“A civilized society cares for its children,” she cautioned. “This is not just a ‘do-gooder’ kind of thing; it matters.”
Penick said President Obama’s new Pre-K initiative offers hope but, as with many federal programs, the state must also invest in the process.