Twenty years ago, Gov. Jim Hunt persuaded the General Assembly to begin the Smart Start initiative, which provides health screenings, parent training and high-quality child care to families. In 2001, Gov. Mike Easley successfully lobbied legislators to begin the precursor of the North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten program, in which children in low-income families are able to attend preschool for free.
The state Democratic Party, which criticized Lightfoot's hiring Wednesday, suggested Lightfoot wasn't properly vetted for the post. Lightfoot's hiring "would have been a danger to the most important asset we can provide to our children — early childhood education," spokesman Clay Pittman wrote in an email.
The state was serving 25,000 children in N.C. Pre-Kindergarten before Perdue decided last fall to expand enrollment by up to another 6,300 slots in response to court rulings upholding open enrollment to eligible at-risk children. Estimates are about 67,000 children statewide may be eligible for the program. McCrory said during his 2012 gubernatorial campaign that pre-kindergarten is a proven concept.
State schools Superintendent June Atkinson said Thursday it's very clear a program like pre-K "makes a huge difference in improving student achievement and reducing the need for social services once our children leave our schools." She cited third-party evaluations showing the pre-K program once run by the state education department "makes a huge difference in closing the gap of students who are at risk."