The 15-month audit does not question the benefits of the early childhood initiative, but it sharply criticizes how the program is run.
The audit recommends combining
More At Four
programs. Smart Start was started by then-Gov. Jim Hunt in 1993. More at Four is a signature program of Gov. Mike Easley.
State Auditor Ralph Campbell said combining the two programs could save taxpayers at least $216,000 a year in administrative costs. He also denied the performance audit was designed to wreck the Smart Start program.
"We are not recommending elimination of this early childhood initiative. Our goals, once again, were to examine accountability and to identify opportunities of improvement within the program," he said.
"The Auditor's recommendation to combine Smart Start and More at Four represents a fundamental lack of understanding of early childhood development and public education policy," Easley said in a press release. "Smart Start and More at Four are two distinctly different initiatives that fulfill different goals. Both are important to serve the needs of our children in preparing them for success in life."
Campbell also said the Smart Start program does not keep track of the children to see how well they are doing after leaving the program.
The audit also questions the spending of some of the partnership programs associated with Smart Start. Close to $170,000 spent on a dentist practice in Brunswick County and $5,000 to hire a symphony orchestra to perform at a daycare.
Campbell's conclusions will be sent to state lawmakers along with a request to pay for an independent study of a previous evaluation program that had given Smart Start high marks.
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