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Gov. Roy Cooper releases federal dollars to aid NC Pre-K as GOP budget stalemate drags on

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Gov. Roy Cooper releases federal dollars to aid NC Pre-K as GOP budget stalemate drags on

Sep 13, 2023 | 3:30 pm ET
By Greg Childress
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Gov. Roy Cooper releases federal dollars to aid NC Pre-K as GOP budget stalemate drags on
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Gov. Roy Cooper took action Wednesday to distribute $8 million in federal funds to more than 2,000 NC Pre-K classrooms. Photo: Adobe Stock

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that he will release $8 million in federal money to help North Carolina’s preschools address needs as they begin a new school year.

The schools may use the one-time awards to upgrade classroom materials, purchase toys, supplies, playground equipment, supplemental curriculum materials or to pay for facility maintenance needs, mental health support for children and staff and professional development.

“When we invest in our network of early childhood and NC Pre-K classrooms and teachers, we help strengthen all families and boost our state’s economy,” said Ariel Ford, director of the Division of Child Development and Early Education at NCDHHS.

Each of the 2,098 state-funded Pre-K classrooms will received about $3,860. The money will be distributed by the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). It comes from federal Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools (EANS) funds that have reverted to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund.

Cooper announced the awards during a tour of Mary Washington Howe Pre-K Center in New Hanover County.

Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper (File Photo)

“As the new school year starts, we are still waiting on Republican legislators to pass a budget that makes meaningful investments in public education,” Cooper said in a news release. “NC Pre-K is a highly effective program that provides opportunities for young children to grow, learn, and develop new skills to put them on a path for success in school and this one time funding will help their classrooms right now.”

The state’s budget has been delayed because Republicans can’t reach agreement on adding provisions that would expand state-sanctioned gambling, several news outlets reported this week.

Cooper’s budget proposal calls for spending $108.3 million on pre-K this school year and $199.5 million for 2024-25 to increase state reimbursement rates for operating NC Pre-K classrooms in childcare centers and public schools, provide start-up grants and serve more children.

According to the news release, insufficient state reimbursement rates, rising startup and operating costs, and difficulty in recruitment and retention of qualified teachers are key obstacles to NC Pre-K expansion. The program currently serves only 52 percent of eligible children.

“The House and Senate budgets under consideration do not provide a funding increase for the NC Pre-K program despite extensive evidence of the program’s effectiveness and a court mandate under the Leandro case to increase state funding and expand the program to serve at least 75 percent of eligible children in every county,” the news release said.

The Leandro case is the state’s long-running school funding lawsuit that began nearly three decades ago when school districts in five low-wealth counties sued the state, claiming that children were not receiving the same level of educational opportunities as students in wealthier counties. School districts in Cumberland, Hoke, Robeson, and Vance counties joined Halifax County in the lawsuit.

In 1997, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling, later reconfirmed in 2004, in which it held that every child has a right to a “sound basic education” that includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals and equitable access to resources.

More recently, the North Carolina Supreme Court ordered the state to spend millions of dollars to implement the first few years of an eight-year school improvement plan.

In declining to comply with the order, Republican lawmakers have argued the high court doesn’t have the authority to order the state to pay for the plan.