That’s a question legislators should ask themselves as the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services starts work on the 2012 budget.
Yes, the state faces a $3.7 billion shortfall between projected revenues and the current government service levels. And yes, cuts have to be made – but not at a cost to children, which translates into a long-term negative impact to our state’s future.
If there ever was a time for politics to be set aside, it is now.
Smart Start and More at Four have been the target of questioning by Republicans for years, not surprising since Smart Start was an initiative of Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt in the 1990s and Democratic Gov. Mike Easley later started More at Four.
North Carolina’s future depends on today’s children, and Smart Start and More at Four provide the services that foster the health and well-being of those children. The John Locke Foundation has called Smart Start an “expensive baby-sitting program” and “government-sponsored nannies,” but that’s hogwash from an entity that hasn’t done its due diligence.
Smart Start funds a myriad of programs geared to ensuring that children start kindergarten prepared to learn. Those programs range from medical support to physical and emotional therapies for children who are behind their peers as infants and toddlers, to child care subsidy for low-income families, teen parenting skills, literacy classes and so much more.
Up to 90 percent of a person’s brain develops during the first three years of life. This is the time when we should provide the greatest support to children.
Numerous studies have proved that children who start kindergarten behind their peers are more likely to remain behind their peers. Unprepared children also are more likely to drop out of school, require welfare funding in adulthood, be unable to hold a well-paying job and become involved in crime.
Bottom line? We can fund children’s support services now or we can pay a whole lot more later when the children become unprepared and jobless adults.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers an ominous warning about the future of American business if significant changes to early education aren’t made.
“With current early childhood education resource levels, too many Kindergartners will continue to begin school ill-prepared, language skills and achievement scores in math and reading will likely remain at mediocre levels, costs for interventions during the K-12 years and after will continue to rise, high school graduation rates and post-secondary degree completion rates will likely remain unchanged, and businesses will lack the necessary workforce to fill the jobs of the future,” a Chamber report states.
If the Chamber says the status quo isn’t good enough, imagine its opinion of funding cuts to children’s services.
It is in our state’s best interest to maintain investments in the early education system. North Carolina’s prosperity depends on our ability to ensure that all children have the opportunity to develop intellectually, socially and emotionally. A child with a solid foundation becomes part of a solid community and contributes to our society
Martha Vance Brown is the executive director for the Richmond County Partnership for Children.