Although children across the state did not create the current budget crisis, they may be the ones who will shoulder much of the burden, many who deal with youngsters say.
And that is why the North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc. (Smart Start), along with Action for Children North Carolina, the Covenant with North Carolina’s Children, N.C. MomsRising, the N.C. Pediatric Society, the Child Care Coalition and others will join forces in Raleigh today to educate the General Assembly on the importance of children’s programs and services.
Smart Start and other childhood education programs may find themselves on the chopping block or signficantly cut back this budget year as legislators work to whittle away at a double-digit deficit.
But before they do, early childhood education supporters wanted to give legislators a long, hard look at what they’d be taking away first from children and then from communities.
“This is a children’s advocacy day that has been planned among many different organizations across the state that are dealing with and concerned with children’s issues on a regular basis,” said Victoria Byrd, executive director of the Partnership for Children of Sampson County. “It is an opportunity for all of us to come together and meet with a variety of representatives at this level and talk with them about children’s services. Actually, it is really an education day for the General Assembly. We are just trying to help them understand what some of the issues are and how they are potentially going to be impacted as we look at some of the changes we know are coming at our state level budget.”
Those cuts are expected to be deep. Some suggest that the More at Four program could be the start of cuts; others say Smart Start could be be eliminated altogether. But neither of those thoughts takes into consideration possible cuts in staffing and an also rumored consolidation with other area Partnerships.
At this point, most everything is speculation. No cuts have been voted on by either the House or the Senate. Yet, the initial proposal in Gov. Beverly Perdue’s budget has education taking a big hit to cut costs, with the Republican-led Legislature expected to hammer away even harder than Perdue.
Byrd, who said she feels like the Sampson County Partnership will be well represented today, admits that those numbers could change everything.
“We realize that some of our programs are not going to remain the same, and that includes the Partnership in Sampson County,” she said. “Our partnership programs will be looking differently I am sure after the current budget year is done … We do realize that there are changes that will be occurring in all early care and education programming. We just simply want to make sure that all of our legislators have opportunity to talk with those of us who are actually at the local level so that we can help to answer any questions that they may have about what the programs do and what their decisions might result in not only in short-term gain, but for long-term ramifications.”
Although she could not comment on exactly what changes would take place since the final budget is not in, Byrd did say that the Partnership will continue to do what it has since its inception — help children.
“The most important thing to remember is that the earliest years of childhood are the most critical, and the reason for that is that this is the time where the structure of the brain is literally occurring,” she said. “Because children are going to be the leaders of our future, we need to make sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to ensure that they have everything that the need in the form of services and programs that will assist them from the very earliest days of their lives. In addition to those early children programs, we are looking at health insurance for children; we are looking to make sure that infant mortality prevention funding continues to be there in community based services for all children … All of those programs can remain as much as possible at the local level. We want our legislators to know that.”
Visits will start in Raleigh this morning at 9 a.m. and run throughout the day.