Publisher's note: The author of this political post Barry Smith, who is an associate editor to the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
Rule would ban religious instruction at all centers, including those at churches
RALEIGH The Child Care Commission made another attempt Feb. 4 to get a procedural committee that sifts through administrative rules to approve a controversial rule prohibiting religious instruction at NC Pre-K centers. The commission implements regulations at private and public centers statewide.
"They don't teach theology in our public schools with state money," said Angela Beacham, a member of the commission. "I do have a problem with saying we will be spending NC Pre-K dollars and setting a different criteria for religious institutions."
NC Pre-K, formerly known as More at Four, is the state's pre-kindergarten program designed to help 4-year-olds considered at risk of failure in school.
Earlier this year, the Rules Review Commission, which reviews administrative rules before they're implemented, had qualms with the rule, with staff and some members saying the Child Care Commission didn't have authority to implement such a rule. Some say that it was in conflict with a state law exempting child care centers operated by churches and other religious organizations from some state regulations.
The Rules Review Commission didn't reject the rule outright when it reviewed it. And Alexandra Gruber, an attorney representing the Child Care Commission, said she didn't know how the Rules Review Commission would rule on the proposed rule if it goes back.
"There's probably a split in that commission as to whether that statute would apply," Gruber said.
Garth Dunklin, a member of the Rules Review Commission, agreed with Gruber on the uncertainty of the rule's fate.
"Given our previous discussions on this matter, I can't say how the commission will vote," Dunklin said.
Dunklin, however, said he still believes that the rule exceeds the Child Care Commission's authority.
"They don't have any authority with respect to religious matters, one way or another," Dunklin said.
Dunklin goes on to say that he believes the rule is direct conflict with another statute.
That statute says, "Nothing in this article shall be interpreted to allow the state to determine the training or curriculum offered in any religious-sponsored child care facility."
Some questioned whether the statute applied to the NC Pre-K program, suggesting that instead it applied to child care programs.
The Rules Review Commission had suggested that the Child Care Commission modify its proposed rule to exempt religious-sponsored facilities from the rule.
The Child Care Commission decided not to go with that suggestion. Instead, it voted to resubmit the rule, but tightened up the language to assure that the religious prohibition would apply only to the NC Pre-K instructional day.
Gruber said that few options might be available in some areas.
"You may not have a choice in a county of a non-religious sponsored facility," Gruber said.
While some members questioned whether tax dollars should be used to support religious education at Pre-K centers, one member, Glenda Weinert, noted that people sponsoring those centers are taxpayers, too.
The revised rule is on the agenda of the Rules Review Commission at its next meeting, on Feb. 21.