Parent fee waived

Published 12:46 am Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lisa Woolard, executive director of the Beaufort-Hyde Partnership for Children, discusses the state’s prekindergarten program in her Washington office Wednesday. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

Sarah fears her child would fall behind in school if not for an early childhood program administered by the Beaufort-Hyde Partnership for Children.

She and her husband work — he full-time, she part-time — but they fall within the income-eligibility requirements for the state-funded program.

“The economy has gotten so bad,” said Sarah, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her privacy.

“My son’s (4 and a half) years old so he wouldn’t be eligible for kindergarten,” she explained. “He doesn’t meet the deadline because of his age; so he’ll be kind of behind. Really, it just kind of gives them a head start. This is the age where they learn the most.”

For a time, it appeared Sarah would be required to pay a fee to enroll her son in the prekindergarten program once called More at Four. The fee was approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature as it assembled the $19.7 billion state budget.

Many local parents of at-risk or economically disadvantaged children might not have been able to afford the fee, said Lisa Woolard, executive director of the Partnership for Children.

For example, a family of three making $1,800 a month might have been forced to pay a $180-per-month enrollment fee, which could have been cost prohibitive, she said.

“There have been a lot of people that have said, ‘I cannot afford that,’” Woolard related.

The prekindergarten program isn’t based on income alone. It also can apply to developmentally disabled students or military families whose moms or dads might be off fighting the wars.

But a ruling by Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning found the “parent fee” and other changes approved by the Legislature would effectively cut off prekindergarten services to poor children.

The N.C. Division of Child Development and Early Education said Manning’s ruling, “Prohibits the state from denying any eligible at-risk four-year old admission to NC Pre-K and directs the state to provide the quality services of the (program) to any eligible at-risk four year old that applies.”

This reversal of fortunes was welcome news to Woolard, whose staff had to place children in 155 available slots but had 250 applicants for the prekindergarten program.

Sarah was one of the fortunate ones. Her son has a place at an area school.

As for lawmakers, “They can find other ways to cut funding,” the mother said.