GREENSBORO — Governor Bev Perdue signed an executive order Thursday that paved the way for enrolling thousands more at-risk 4-year-olds in the North Carolina Pre-K program by Jan. 1 2013.
Perdue's action comes just weeks after the State Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling mandating no at-risk 4-year old be denied admission. Nearly 25,000 at-risk 4-year-olds from around the state currently are enrolled in the Pre-K program.
The order means as many as 6,300 more will have the same opportunity; about 1,000 of them immediately.
"If you have a kid who gets a good pre-K experience like North Carolina Pre-K that will increase the chances exponentially that that child will do well in school academically. That means very likely stay on grade level with math and reading up to 3rd-grade," said Gov. Perdue.
Educators said the benefits of pre-K go beyond the academic experience.
"There's the socialization. There's interaction with other children. You can be the smartest kid in the classroom but if you jump on your neighbor all the time you're not going to be successful in public school," said executive director of Guilford Child Development Robin Britt.
Perdue identified $20 million in projected unspent funds from the Department of Health and Human services, which will pay for the expanded enrollment through the end of the current school year. She signed the order at the Early Childhood Center in Greensboro where the enrollment of nine of the center's 18 pre-K children is paid for by the state program.
"I think the impact is going to be for those children and families who would not have been able to access services this year,” said program administrator Teri Smith. “We have had several people come and apply even when our positions were all spoken for."
Perdue said the General Assembly's 20 percent cut in early education programs kept thousands of the state's youngest children out of the Pre-K program. She urged members to go into their communities and meet some of the teachers and families and the children who now would be enrolled.
"If you do this you will understand that you must, you absolutely must in the next session of the General Assembly keep North Carolina's commitment to opportunity for all of our children by fully funding North Carolina Pre-K," said Perdue.