Politics over kids — again

Politics over kids — again

- in Fitzsimon File

The latest round in the battle over the state’s early childhood programs is making the lines between Governor Beverly Perdue and Republican legislative leaders even clearer.

Perdue and the Democrats in the General Assembly want every at-risk child in North Carolina to have access to NC Pre-K, formerly known as More at Four, to make it far more likely they will not struggle in school.

That’s not just a hope. Studies show that low-income third-graders who have attended More at Four perform significantly better on math and reading tests than low-income third-graders who did not participate in the program.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning ruled this summer that changes to the More at Four budget made by the Republican General Assembly denied at-risk kids their constitutional right to a sound, basic education and said that every eligible child must have access to the program.

The budget slashed $32 million in funding for NC Pre-K and added a co-payment for the parents of many of the eligible children.  That’s what set Manning off and this week Perdue responded by asking lawmakers to shift $30 million back to the program this year  to allow 6,300 children to have access to the program in January.

That would get the program back to where it was before the Republicans slashed it this summer.  Perdue also outlined a plan to phase in access for all eligible children by 2016, which legislative analysts say could cost as much as $300 million.

It seems like a reasonable response to Manning’s order and an overdue investment in making sure every child has the chance to succeed when they show up at school.  But not to the Republicans, who not too long ago were also praising More at Four for helping children from low-income families.

They don’t seem as interested in helping those kids these days.

Republicans first complained that NC Pre-K  has never been fully funded, which is true. So the response ought to be to fund it, not cut $32 million to prevent more than 6,000 kids from enrolling.

Then they questioned Manning’s authority with Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger going as far as saying that the judge seemed “determined to create a massive new welfare program from the bench.”

More at Four, now NC Pre-K, has apparently moved in Republican rhetoric from an effective program that helps low-income children to a massive welfare program in less than a year.

Now the complaint by GOP leaders is that the state simply cannot afford to spend the $300 million in the next four years to make the program available to all the children who are eligible.

Rep. Nelson Dollar called Perdue’s long-term proposal “careless” because she did not specifically identify a way to pay for it.

But that what’s she does every two years in the budget she presents to the General Assembly. Her proposal this year was to leave ¾ of the 2009 one-cent sales tax increase on the books.

The Republicans decided it was more important to give everyone in the state a tax cut of roughly 17 cents a day than keep More at Four funding at current levels, not to mention keeping teachers in the classrooms and human services available for the most vulnerable people.

That’s the definition of careless.

Republicans could respond another way of course, by saying they will shift the money this year to restore the funding they cut and will work with Perdue to come up with a way during the budget debates in the next several years to phase in access to NC Pre-K for all eligible children.

Imagine that, a bit of cooperation to help low-income kids have a chance at the same opportunities as every other child by expanding a program that Republicans themselves have praised.

Not this General Assembly. Not these Republicans. They would much rather bash the governor than work with her. Never mind what is best for the kids.