08/07/04 — Where school money could come from

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Where school money could come from

The General Assembly might have to revisit the order of its priorities when it reconvenes in January.

The reason is explained well in the article to the right of this one on this page. In it, two experts — Dr. Jonathan P. Sher and Professor Jack Boger — discuss the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Leandro case.

Simply put: The court says that the state constitution must offer every child a more-than-adequate opportunity for an education.

The court didn’t say how. It left that up to the state Board of Education and the General Assembly. Presumably every school district will be assessed, and something will have to be done to help those in poor counties where children do not get the opportunity that the court says they deserve.

That undoubtedly will cost some money.

But it does not necessarily have to be additional money. It should be possible to add more money to one budget line while subtracting a like amount from another budget line.

For example, the decision does not require the state to provide kindergarten for children 4 years old. And in the budget session of the General Assembly that just ended, $9 million was allocated for just that — the More at Four program that is a favorite of Gov. Mike Easley.

Of course, the court didn’t say the court couldn’t have a program like More at Four. It merely says it doesn’t have to.

More at Four is a get’em-while-they’re-young program that is designed for children who are at risk of failure. Advocates of such programs believe that children in risky family situations do better if they can be reached at an early age.

But, come January, something will have to go. Otherwise, more heft must be added to the state budget, which was expanded by nearly half a billion dollars to nearly $16 billion this year.

It might be better if those 4-year-olds were home with their mothers so the state can meet its constitutional obligation to their bigger brothers and sisters.

Published in Editorials on August 7, 2004 10:04 PM