MEDIA RELEASE: To Uphold Constitution, North Carolina Must Fund Education, Lawsuit Charges

To Uphold Constitution, North Carolina Must Fund Education, Lawsuit Charges
Hearing Wednesday in Raleigh will address whether slashed funding for Smart Start, More at Four and more violates state constitution
 
RALEIGH (June 22, 2011) – Education is the cornerstone of North Carolina’s prosperity. That’s one reason the state constitution requires North Carolina to provide a sound basic education for all students.
 
But can the state provide a sound basic education to all of North Carolina's students despite cutting funding from renowned prekindergarten programs Smart Start and More at Four? That’s the question at the center of a hearing before Judge Howard Manning at the Wake County Courthouse on Wednesday at 10 a.m. in courtroom 10C. 

A suit filed by a group of low-wealth, rural and urban North Carolina counties says the devastating budget cuts to preschool and public schools will undermine North Carolina’s constitutional obligations. And studies back up this argument. 

One recent study by Duke University shows that in jurisdictions with Smart Start and/or More at Four, students’ third grade reading and math scores increase regardless whether they participated in the program. The conclusion: budget cuts don’t just affect preschool and early childhood education; they affect Kindergarten through 12th grade public education as well. 

Research on long-term impacts of early childhood education shows a higher graduation rate from high school. Thus, it’s likely no coincidence that the first participants in Smart Start in the mid-1990s are among those high school graduates pushing North Carolina’s graduation rate above the national average for the first time.

 
Yet funding has dwindled in the past decade. Since 2000, appropriations for Smart Start have fallen from $231 million to $150 million despite the population of children under age 5 increasing by more than 22 percent from 2000 to 2009. The most recent cuts would slash funding by an additional 20 percent. The budget cuts would bring North Carolina to 49th among states in per-pupil funding for education. 

Numerous groups, including the NC Justice Center, submitted an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in support of the plaintiffs. Those groups also include the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Advocates for Children’s Services of Legal Aid of North Carolina, Disability Rights NC and the North Carolina Conference of NAACP Branches.
 
The brief focuses on the impact of the 20 percent reduction in funding for early childhood education on the ability of the state to live up to its constitutional obligation to provide a sound basic education for all students. 
 
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Jack Holtzman, Staff Attorney, NC Justice Center, jack@ncjustice.org, (919) 856-2165; Christopher Hill, Director, Education & Law Project,chill@ncjustice.org, (919) 856-2567; Jeff Shaw, Director of Communications, jeff@ncjustice.org, (503) 551-3615.