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Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy May Fall Under State Budget Ax

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SAMPSON COUNTY, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley says his new budget increases spending in education despite the state's financial problems, but not everything is free from the chopping block.

Karli Sickinger, a cadet at the

Tarheel ChalleNGAcademy

in Salemburg, North Carolina, is looking for another chance and some structure in life. Her story is like many in her class of 110. She said things may have turned out bad if it was not for the program.

"[I would] probably be out running around somewhere with my friends doing something stupid," she said.

Officials say 1,400 kids have gone through the program in the past 9.5 years. Seventy-five percent of them got their general equivalency diplomas, which is what makes the program unique. The teens spend the first two weeks at a Fort Bragg introductory boot camp. From there, they go to live at the Salemburg facility and go to school.

"We're the step between the public schools and the Department of Corrections. Without us, some of these boys and girls could end up in the legal system in the DOC," said Dale Autry, deputy director of Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy.

As part of his new budget, Easley wants to completely cut the $1 million budget of the Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy. Officials say the academy could close by 2004, but Sickinger hopes that does not happen.

"I hope this place will stay open forever because this will help many children to come," she said.

Right now, 60 percent of the program is funded by the federal government. Supporters hope the federal government can kick in more money to keep the program alive.


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