The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday December 5th

Smart Start, More at Four face major cuts

Early childhood development programs may be privatized

Two early childhood development programs used in Orange County could face cuts of up to 20 percent if the N.C. House of Representatives’ budget is passed.

The budget proposal designed to counter a deficit of at least $2.4 billion could result in major cuts for both Smart Start and More at Four pre-kindergarten programs.

As a result, the programs will likely be privatized.

“(Private centers are) rated, they’re inspected and they’re just really good programs,” said Norman Sanderson, R-Craven, who is vice-chairman of the N.C. General Assembly’s appropriations subcommittee on education.

“We know (Smart Start and More at Four) are necessary … so we’ll look at the private sector.”

Smart Start is geared for children less than six years old and provides support services that prepare children from birth to enter grade school.

More at Four provides a preschool setting for four-year-olds at-risk of school failure. It would be moved from the state Department of Public Instruction into the Division of Child Development.

Smart Start’s health-related programs would be eliminated.

Between 2,000 and 4,000 student slots for Smart Start and More at Four would be cut, said N.C. Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange. The subsidy program already has a 45,000-member waitlist.

Sanderson said government-run childhood programs will be transferred to the private sector, such as to private day cares, to create less of a burden for taxpayers.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district received about $450,000 from More at Four to subsidize pre-kindergarten education in 2010-11.

“Generally we’ll see a reduction on what we’ll be able to provide to preschool children,” said Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent for support services for the district.

“Identifying what resources those kids need in providing them an early start is critical to ensuring their successes later on in their schooling and eventually their life.”

The Orange County Partnership for Young Children administers both programs, and Executive Director Margaret Samuels said a 20-percent cut would affect how it identifies and serves children in need.

“Given the success of these programs, none of this makes any sense that these programs are being reduced as much as they are,” she said. “These are long-standing programs that helped get our community to where it is, and losing these programs can jeopardize children’s successes as they go through school.”

Hillsborough resident Laura Nicholson has two children who went through More at Four, and said its hands-on teaching is enlightening for many children.

“It really helped not only to develop an academic readiness for school but also a social readiness for school,” Nicholson said.

“For me, it helped my child who wasn’t in day care to catch up on the social skills he missed while being home with me.”

One Duke University study found third-graders in counties that received more funding for Smart Start and More at Four programs performed better on standardized tests and had lower special education placement rates than counties that did not.

“In many ways those first three years set up the academic, economic and social success of a child for their lifetime,” Insko said. “If they have deficits during those first three years, they’re very difficult and very expensive to make up.”

Contact the City Editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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