Local Politics

Halifax Smart Start program faces chopping block

Posted April 6, 2011 2:06 p.m. EDT
Updated April 6, 2011 6:48 p.m. EDT

— Talk of spending cuts as state lawmakers grapple with a nearly $2.4 billion budget gap prompted the decision to shut down a Smart Start program in Halifax County.

The White Oak Parent/Child Center in Enfield provides child care, parent training and health screenings for children before they reach kindergarten.

Parents say their children have learned social skills and grown to love school through the center.

"She was afraid of everybody. She was shy. She wouldn't go to anyone," mother Crystal Ward said of her daughter, Crizaria Alston. "She has come out of the shell that she was in."

"It's amazing how much he improved within two months," Robyn Hilliard said of her son.

"They come home every day to tell me what they did in school for that day," mother Edna Richardson said.

Recently, the Halifax-Warren Smart Start Partnership for Children, which runs the center, announced that it would cut off funding by the end of June.

That will leave 40 children without a program and eight workers without a job. Some parents said they will likely have to cut the hours they work.

"This is a rural community. They will have to go from 25 to 30 miles just to find quality child care," White Oak school administrator Queen Boyd said.

Magda Baligh, executive director of the Halifax-Warren Smart Start Partnership for Children, said she was directed by the North Carolina Partnership for Children to expect a 25 percent budget cut.

That cut means they won't have the funds to keep running the center, she said.

"This is what happens when the General Assembly cuts funds for early childhood (education). Families get hurt, and services get cut," Baligh said. "We can't continue to provide the same services without the same kind of funding."

Negotiations on the state budget for the next fiscal year are just beginning, and the funding levels for Smart Start haven't been set.

Some lawmakers have proposed merging Smart Start with another early childhood education program, More at Four. They say the merger would run the programs more efficiently.

"The approach that's being discussed is trying to evaluate effectiveness and whether we can make it a better program," Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, said.

Gov. Bev Perdue has proposed cutting each program's budget by 5 percent. This year, Smart Start received $182 million in state funding, and More at Four got $160 million.

Parents said they hope that their children's center will stay open.

"Without this program, where are our children going to go?" Richardson said.