North Carolina Superior Court Judge Howard Manning , Jr. issued yesterday the first court ruling that acknowledges the pivotal role early education plays in allowing at-risk children to avail themselves of their right to a sound basic education.
“Put another way, each at-risk child under age 4 that is receiving services from Smart Start will be better prepared, physically and developmentally, to benefit from NCPK’s educationally based prekindergarten programs when they arrive at age 4,” Judge Manning wrote.
Smart Start is North Carolina’s public/private partnership that improves children’s early care and learning programs; provides parents with tools that support them in raising healthy, happy, successful children; and ensures that children have access to preventive health care.
“Today is truly extraordinary. For the first time ever, a court in the United States has said that a child’s ability to access his or her right to obtain a sound basic education begins at birth. Once again, North Carolina makes early learning history,” said Dr. Olson Huff, chair of the board of The North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc., the organization that oversees Smart Start.
The ruling is part of the long-running Leandro case. That case established the standard that all children have the constitutional right to a sound basic education. In 2000, Judge Manning said that the state was obligated to provide pre-kindergarten education to “at risk” children. North Carolina began More at Four in response to the ruling. In June, the court held a hearing in which the Leandro plaintiffs challenged the budget cuts enacted by the legislature for the coming year, particularly the changes to More at Four.
Judge Manning emphasized the importance of early education throughout the ruling. “The bottom line . . . is that the State, using the combination of Smart Start and the More at Four Pre-Kindergarten Programs, have indeed selected pre-kindergarten combined with early childhood programs, as the means to ‘achieve constitutional compliance’ for at-risk prospective enrollees.”
The ruling is online at http://bit.ly/mQxCoy.