RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina will get up to $70 million to improve early childhood education after being selected Friday for a federal Race to the Top grant, but Gov. Beverly Perdue says that won’t solve a standoff with legislative Republicans on expanding pre-kindergarten services.
The Obama administration said North Carolina and eight other states will share $500 million. North Carolina applied for $70 million and will learn later exactly how much it will get.
The cash will be used to improve the North Carolina Pre-K program, but Perdue’s office says the money can’t be used to expand the program in line with a state judge’s order that no at-risk 4-year-olds can be turned away.
Getting the money meant North Carolina’s application had to address specific selection criteria that amounted to improving pre-kindergarten quality and services rather than expanding the program’s reach, Perdue spokesman Ben Niolet said.
“This one-time investment will have a long-term benefit for all of North Carolina’s children. However, it cannot be used by the General Assembly to escape their responsibility to fund NC Pre-K,” he said.
A spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, declined comment. Spokesmen for Senate president Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, did not respond to requests for comment.
Perdue, a Democrat, is at odds with the Republican-led General Assembly over a judge’s ruling that the state must provide pre-kindergarten education to all at-risk 4-year-olds who are eligible. That’s required by the state constitution, which says every child is entitled to a sound, basic education, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning ruled this summer.
The price tag could mean boosting state spending on the program by more than $300 million annually within four years, according to legislative fiscal analysts.
Perdue wanted lawmakers to appropriate another $30 million to teach another 6,300 preschoolers beginning next month. Perdue called the move a first step toward serving an estimated 67,000 eligible 4-year-olds by mid-2016.
Republican lawmakers have resisted, arguing the state can’t afford such an expansion any time soon. State attorneys are appealing the ruling.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)