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Sacrificing child-care initiatives

By John Gerstenmier
For the Salisbury Post
Just this past week, the N.C. Senate passed their budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. In keeping with this holiday season of sacrifice, the N.C. Senate has called for the innocent, our children, to bear an inordinate amount of the pain required by their proposed budget cuts.
This proposal is bad for young children, and we need to let our legislators know why. Both the documents and the process are complicated and confusing. I would choose to think that our senators have acted out of a lack of knowledge in adopting this budget. There is just too much disappointment attached to the thought that they would knowingly destroy or cripple two high quality, model child-care initiatives. Both model programs, Smart Start and More at Four (MAF), have received national accolades for addressing our community needs in preparing children for success in school.
Our senators and representatives need to hear from us immediately.
Here are a few facts gleaned out of this hurtful bill:
The Senate cut more than $100 million from our state investments in young children. That represents a 25 percent cut in state funding for early childhood programs, all on the backs of children from birth to age 5. This is unfair and unreasonable, given the much lower cuts being born by the K-12 and higher education systems. Governor Perdue’s proposal reflects a more equitable reduction across all educational age groups.
The Senate cut $15 million from Smart Start, further stressing the infrastructure that supports families and young children, including More at Four subsidies in Rowan County. The loss of these dollars in the Smart Start stream would effectively lower the per-child payments below current market rates in our 25 public school and private center More at Four classrooms here in Rowan County.
The Senate proposal would eviscerate the More at Four program by taking out $77 million of state funding and backfilling with “one-time” federal stimulus dollars that are intended to help families stay employed. The quality components of the program are missing, the rates (paid to child-care classrooms) would be lowered and families now participating in the program may no longer be eligible. Rowan County families who have recently lost their employment would be denied this traditional subsidy funding which is designed for working families only.
The Senate bill would mean that many Rowan County families with infants and toddlers, any child under 4, will have no child care support. Instead, the Senate plans to use the entire federal stimulus funding in one year on a newly created, unproven subsidy-based program for 4-year-olds only (the Plus program).
There is little clarity and a great deal of confusion about this Senate bill. Many people are adding to the confusion by talking about the merger of MAF and Smart Start. There is no merger wording in the Senate budget. Merger considerations currently appear in the House bill (H539).
The Senate budget proposes to cut our early childhood programs by a full 25 percent. I submit these figures to support this assertion:
Total cuts in Senate budget proposal:
– $40 million cut of state dollars for MAF
– $37.2 million cut of state dollars to be replaced by federal dollars
– $15 million cut of state dollars for Smart Start
– $12 million cut of state dollars for child-care subsidy
– $3.8 million cut of state dollars for T.E.A.C.H.
In total, $108 million in state funding would be cut from early childhood programs.
Total state dollars currently devoted to early childhood:
– $210 million Smart Start
– $170 million MAF
– $3.8 million in T.E.A.C.H.
– $50 million estimated state dollars in child-care subsidy
This year, $434 million total state funding is devoted to early childhood programs.
Yes, we must cut the overall state budget, but please urge our elected state officials to apply a more equitable budget plan. In addition, I urge legislators not to dismantle our nationally recognized early childhood programs. Both Smart Start and More at Four are recognized as model programs across the nation. The Senate budget would eliminate More at Four and severely reduce the effectiveness of Smart Start.
It is unfair and, in terms of our responsibility for our children’s future development, unconscionable to approve the Senate budget in its current form.
The preschool-aged chldren of our state are targeted by the Senate budget proposal to bear an unfair portion of the pain associated with these cuts.
Our quality early childhood education programs here in Rowan County help to ensure each child arrives at school prepared to succeed. Since the inception of Smart Start in Rowan, our programs have offered age-appropriate educational development, health care and family support. We are also an integral part of the economic development of Rowan County, as Smart Start Rowan has secured over $25 million that directly supported our community through our numerous day care teachers, their families and the Rowan County businesses they patronize. Our employers also benefit, as their employees are able to remain in the workplace while their children are well cared for.
In challenging times, responsible fiscal leadership strives to sustain quality for the future, while making the necessary adjustments for the reality of funding limitations.
As it currently addresses our early childhood programs, the Senate budget proposal does not represent responsible fiscal leadership,
I encourage the citizens of Rowan County and across the state to contact our legislative representatives and express our concerns over a budget proposal that would call for such unfair sacrifices on the part of our youngest children and their families.

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