Merrill makes right step to expand Wake County's pre-K

April 7, 2014 

In proposing to expand Wake County’s pre-K programs for at-risk children, schools Superintendent Jim Merrill is taking a needed step.

There’s been an admirable attempt to provide pre-K schooling for kids with special needs and poor children who clearly need the help if they’re going to get a worthwhile start in regular school.

Now, Merrill wants to identify more children who may benefit from pre-K and to hire teachers and teachers’ assistants to help them. Merrill’s proposal would serve an additional 200 special education students and add 40 slots to the pre-K program for children from low-income families. The Wake system currently has 2,075 students in preschool programs.

It has been well-documented since the beginning of the federal Head Start program decades ago that intervention with younger children to help them and their families really makes a difference in their schooling. That was also found to be true of former Gov. Jim Hunt’s Smart Start program.

On the state level, Republican legislators aren’t enthusiastic about pre-K and haven’t done much to improve it. In fact, they’ve reduced the number of kids eligible for public pre-K through funding cuts and “clever” changes in eligibility rules. The General Assembly approved new income eligibility rules and funding cuts that have reduced the number of children served from a high of 35,000 in 2010 to 26,617 this year.

Pre-K should be expanded, not curtailed. It should be viewed by the state as an investment, not an expense. Credit Jim Merrill with trying to make a move in the right direction.

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