North Carolina Moves To Cut Free Pre-K Enrollment In Half

North Carolina’s state House approved a change to the eligibility criteria for its free Pre-K program on Tuesday, potentially cutting the number of children served in half, reports WRAL:

Under current law, a 4-year-old is considered at-risk and eligible for the program if his or her family makes less than 75 percent of the state’s median wage, or about $39,000 a year for a family of three. Children are also eligible if they have an active-duty military parent, limited English proficiency, developmental problems or chronic illness. […]

The proposal would reduce the family income threshold to the federal poverty level, about $19,500 for a family of three. Children with limited English proficiency or chronic illness also would no longer be automatically eligible.

More than 60,000 children are eligible under the current guidelines, but the new criteria would cut that number by about 31,000.


Meanwhile, its neighbor to the south, South Carolina, is moving in the opposite direction: Legislation that passed out of a state Senate subcommittee would expand access for low-income children to a pilot program that offers full-day Pre-K classes.

Unfortunately, though, North Carolina is part of a national trend: States are cutting back on preschool funding, spending the lowest amount per child in a decade. Overall, the U.S. lags behind most other developed countries when it comes to spending and enrollment in preschool.

Yet the economic benefits of spending money on these programs are huge. Research shows that every dollar spent on high-quality universal preschool programs can return $7 to $11 in economic benefits. Rather than leave the states to create a patchwork of access, President Obama has proposed $75 billion to fund the expansion of preschool programs to make them available to all children.