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Search On for Providers as N.C.'s Pre-K Wrangle Continues

While North Carolina lawmakers continue wrangling over cuts to the state's prekindergarten program, providers are scouring the state for qualified prechool operators that could take on more children right away if new money becomes available.

In June, lawmakers cut access for children and instituted a sliding-scale co-pay for families. In August, Gov. Bev Purdue, a Democrat, issued an executive order eliminating the co-pay and calling for a plan by Oct. 10 to expand access for all at-risk students.

But whether new funds will arrive is an open question. "The legislators don't want to open up the budget again. It looks like an impasse to me," said Stephanie Fanjul, president of the North Carolina Partnership for Children, which oversees Smart Start, one of the state's two pre-kindergarten programs.

In the meantime, she said, "Local administrators have been recruiting and doing eligibility [assessments] on kids, trying to fill every slot they can find."

Most state programs started back last week, and Fanjul estimates there is already a waiting list of 7,000 eligible children. Some local programs are adding slots by redirecting local funds and federal Title I money; many are networking with local private providers to find those qualified to tackle state pre-K should more money become available. "If additional money becomes available we could move quickly to put kids in those spaces," Fanjul said.

Meanwhile, today's Raleigh News & Observer reports that Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning has reaffirmed his earlier decision to restore pre-K services cut in the state's fiscal 2012 budgets and denied Republican legislative leaders' motions attempting to intervene in the case. (The state Attorney General's office is also pursuing an appeal.)

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