Emery P. Dalesio
RALEIGH — The North Carolina NAACP will launch a campaign targeting Republican legislators who have resisted full funding for the state’s pre-kindergarten enrichment program, the civil rights organization’s head said Friday.
The NAACP plans to hold events statewide drawing attention to GOP leaders’ plans to further challenge a state appeals court ruling, the Rev. William Barber said.
A three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 21 that at-risk 4-year-olds must be enrolled in the North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program if their parents seek admission. That includes children at risk of falling behind their peers due to chronic health problems, or because their families are in financial hardship or do not speak English at home. As many as 67,000 children may be eligible for the program previously known as More at Four, which could cost taxpayers up to $300 million a year, according to estimates from Gov. Beverly Perdue’s administration.
But the judges stopped short of requiring a vast expansion of the program to include every needy 4-year-old.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, plan to appeal the decision to the state’s Supreme Court, spokesmen for the legislative leaders said last week. The high court can decide whether to consider the case.
Barber scolded GOP leaders, recalling both the Biblical admonishment that Christians should care for those who have little and Martin Luther King’s hope for the day when his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
“The rulings of this house have in fact judged our children by the color of their skin and by the amount of money in their parents’ pocketbook, the content of their bank account,” Barber said standing before the state Legislative Building. “If we are going to lift this state, and lift this nation, you have to lift it from the bottom.”
Continuing the court battle could delay expanding the program, depriving thousands of 4-year-olds eligible this year, Barber said. NC Pre-K enrolled about 24,000 children in the just-completed school year, down from about 35,000 in 2010 after lawmakers cut its funding by 20 percent and imposed other restrictions.
Barber said lawmakers should act now with a special legislative session to approve more funding for the program.
Spokesmen for the legislative leaders declined comment Friday, citing ongoing litigation. Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office has not yet decided whether to follow through on the request by legislative leaders to pursue the appeal, a spokeswoman said.
The NAACP and other groups this month finished a series of events statewide seeking to draw attention to the impact of poverty in North Carolina.