There’s no sugarcoating it: The final budget approved by the N.C. General Assembly is bad for children and families.
Our lawmakers had a choice to renew our investments in the programs that help N.C. children grow up strong and healthy. Unfortunately, they chose to continue on a path that includes harsh cuts to education, infant mortality, tobacco prevention, and fails to restore funding for essential early learning programs that prepare children to succeed in school and life.
Below is a brief rundown of the budget’s impacts on children and families, courtesy of our friends at the Covenant with N.C.’s Children, Action for Children, the N.C. Partnership for Children, and the N.C. Justice Center.
- Education: The final budget leaves K-12 schools across the state with $190 million less than they had last year when cuts resulted in the loss of 915 teachers and 2,042 teaching assistants.
- N.C. Pre-K: Lawmakers failed to provide any additional funding for N.C. Pre-K, the program which helps prepare students to enter school ready to learn. As a result, the program will continue to have waiting lists of at-risk children. On the positive side, the state would no longer require a parent co-payment for children served by the program and clarifies that chronic health conditions and developmental disabilities can be used to determine eligibility.
- Smart Start: While the budget fails to make significant reinvestments in Smart Start following a 20 percent cut last year, it raises the possibility that the state would invest $3.5 million in Smart Start for an early literacy program and assistance to ensure that children in rural communities have access to early childhood programs if the funds aren’t needed for Medicaid. Unfortunately, Medicaid is typically in the red, making it unlikely that Smart Start would receive this funding.
- Child Care Subsidy: The state would decrease its investment in child care subsidy, replacing $7 million of state funds with federal funds. Overall, the funding for child care subsidy remains flat. Therefore, many low-income, working families will remain on waiting lists to receive assistance in affording child care.
- Health Care: On a positive note, N.C. Health Choice (the state health insurance program for children) was funded at current levels and open enrollment should continue. Estimations are that enrollment will increase from the current 148,000 children to 153,000. Unfortunately, funds for smoking prevention and cessation were deeply cut, receiving only $2.7 million in non-recurring funds out of the $17.3 million needed to maintain current efforts.
- Infant Mortality: An important high-risk pregnancy clinic at ECU serving over 7,000 women had its funding restored. Funding was also renewed for the 17-Progesterone program which helps prevent pre-term birth in low-income women with a previous history and for the March of Dimes programs aimed at preventing birth defects. Unfortunately, the state grant for the Healthy Start Foundation, a key piece of North Carolina’s infant mortality prevention infrastructure, was cut. It’s unclear how and if the foundation will continue to function. This cut led to the loss of almost $300,000 in federal matching funds.
- Foster Care: The state’s foster care program received a $6.67 million recurring cut.
The final budget increases total funding for state government by just over one percent when compared to the budget approved last year. The Governor's proposed budget increased funding by 4.9 percent. The legislative budget does not include the temporary sales tax increase that allowed the Governor to invest more heavily in public education.
All of these cuts will have real and immediate impacts on the children of North Carolina as well as long-term impacts for their futures and our state’s future. As lawmakers hit the campaign trail this fall, I hope you’ll join me in asking them to explain their votes on the budget and urging them to stand up for N.C.’s children going forward.
Beth Messersmith is the Campaign Director for NC MomsRising and a Durham mother of two.