by Bob Geary
The three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Superior Court Judge Howard Manning's ruling. You can read the decision here.
Manning found, as part of his years-long ("Leandro") analysis of what the state constitution requires in the way of elementary and secondary education, that pre-K preparation is critical if at-risk kids, i.e., poor kids, are going to have a decent chance of success in the K-12 system. So he ordered the state legislature to step up and provide enough funding so that every such child can be served. Gov. Perdue agreed. But she didn't convince the Republican-led General Assembly.
As the appeals court found, in a decision issued this morning, Manning did not say that pre-K is a requirement for all time in North Carolina. Instead, Manning found — and the state Supreme Court has tasked Manning with doing the analysis and making his rulings operational — that the way our school system works now, in the early 21st century, pre-K is a must for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Attorney General Roy Cooper appealed Manning's ruling. The State Board of Education, which was a co-defendant in the case, did not join in Cooper's arguments.
The Covenant With North Carolina's Children, an advocacy group, brought our attention to the Court of Appeals' action. Here's what the Covenant said:
RALEIGH — The State Court of Appeals issued its ruling this morning on the most recent iteration of the ongoing Leandro case. In its decision, the Court upheld Judge Howard Manning’s ruling that the state has a constitutional obligation to provide pre-kindergarten to all “at-risk” four-year-olds.
“This is great news for North Carolina’s children and families,” stated Rob Thompson, Executive Director of the Covenant with North Carolina’s Children. “Study after study shows that when children receive a high-quality early education, they do better in school and in life.”
Despite the clarity of the ruling, much uncertainty remains regarding access to NC Pre-K.
“The ball is now in the Legislature’s court,” continued Thompson. “Will it comply with the ruling and fully fund access to NC Pre-K? Will it appeal the ruling to the State Supreme Court? The reaction of legislative leaders will be the most important thing to monitor in the coming days and weeks.”
Specifically, the Court rejected the legislature’s claim that Judge Manning overstepped his authority by mandating open access to NC Pre-K as the sole remedy to educating at-risk four year olds:
“Under Leandro II, the State has a duty to prepare all “at-risk” students to avail themselves of an opportunity to obtain a sound basic education. Pre-kindergarten is the method in which the State has decided to effectuate its duty, and the State has not produced or developed any alternative plan or method.”
During the 2011-12 school year, NC Pre-k served just over 26,000 children. Another 40,000 children were eligible for the program, but not enrolled due to a lack of funding.
The Covenant with North Carolina’s Children is a non-profit, membership-based advocacy organization composed of service providers, professional associations and advocacy groups dedicated to promoting public policy that benefits children in North Carolina.