Funding for pre-K program on the line in NC budget negotiations

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - The closer we get to the end of June, the more it becomes crunch time for North Carolina lawmakers who are looking to have a new state budget in place by July 1.

One of the line items they are reviewing is funding for the North Carolina Pre-K program.

The free program serves military families, lower income families and families of children with developmental disabilities or deemed at-risk.

Across the state, there are a little more than 27,000 children enrolled in North Carolina Pre-K. Right now, there are nearly 4,700 children statewide on a waiting list for the program.

To accommodate them requires resources and money. That's where our state's elected leaders come in.

Gov. Roy Cooper had a message for leaders at the General Assembly.

"I think early childhood is critical and not only filling all these Pre-K slots, which I hope they end up doing, but also investment in Smart Start," said Cooper.

"Really getting to those children at early ages is key to laying the foundation to having a solid education and we need to do what we can to get rid of those wait lists," said Rep. Tim Moore, (R) House Speaker.

That's part of the House and Senate budget negotiations happening now. House leaders want to add $12 million this year and $24 million next year to Pre-K funding. They say their goal is to eliminate the waiting list about a year from now.

Parents say they would be on board with that.

"It's about values," said Kristine Duehl, a parent from Clayton. "Do we value a society where people are well-educated? If so, we need to start at the very beginning and that's the Pre-K level."

State lawmakers will return to work on their budget negotiations next week.

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