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State Proposes $50 Million Budget Cut To Smart Start

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RALEIGH — A state project that helps thousands of North Carolina's children is on the chopping block.

A legislative committee is looking at cutting

Smart Start's

budget by $50 million to help fill the state's $2 billion budget hole.

Supporters of the cuts say they are the difference between children having a future or being a failure.

The state says First Presbyterian Child Care Center in Raleigh offers quality care. Under its

star-rated license

program, the center earned three stars for infants through children three years old.

Teachers at the center receive tuition to earn child care degrees. The center also gets equipment and books to help make sure children are ready to start kindergarten at age five.

The director of the Partnership for Children, which oversees Smart Start, says a $50 million budget cut to Smart Start puts all that in jeopardy.

"We're going to lose child subsidies for working parents. We're going to lose child care quality because we can't we can't do the things that improve the quality of child care," Karen Ponder said.

The proposed cuts to the Smart Start program follow $70 million in cuts last year. The agency funds programs in all 100 counties.

At its height, the state has never funded more than 44 percent of the total program. However, North Carolina still handed over $220 million for the program -- a major chunk of the Health and Human Services budget.

State lawmakers believe the program can afford a deep cut in dire times, but Gov. Mike Easley says it will not happen.

"We're not going to cut the classroom and I feel that Smart Start is a part of that. So Smart Start through the university system, we're not making cuts to the classroom," he said.

Critics say a $50 million cut is just a smart start at bringing the Health and Human Services budget in line.

"Two hundred and twenty million dollars is a lot of money to spend for the goal of improving readiness to learn. That goal isn't being achieved," said John Hood, director of the John Locke Foundation.

Hood says there are children in need of quality care, but believes the Smart Start money is spread too thinly and that children who do not need it benefit more than children who do.

Smart Start leaders are hoping the governor's budget will win out.

"$50 million would devastate Smart Start," Ponder said.


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