Local News

N.C.'s early education program feels budget pinch

Posted November 11, 2009 7:10 a.m. EST
Updated November 11, 2009 7:17 a.m. EST

— Budget cuts have taken a toll on North Carolina’s More at Four Program, which is designed to provide an education to at-risk 4-year-olds, program officials said.

One example is in Johnston County, which was funded for 469 slots this year, down from 472 last year. The current wait list includes 88 eligible children, officials said.

Kids deemed "at-risk" are accepted in the program based on family income, special needs and language barriers.

“Part of our issue is the wonderful growth in this county, but not being able to keep up with it,” said Dwight Morris, executive director of the Partnership for Children of Johnston County, a group that helps coordinate More at Four.

The Partnership cut its transportation budget by half, and parents have to either provide transportation or pay part of the cost.

“It’s a challenge for all of us,” Morris said.

The Partnership for Children in Johnston County is looking for supplemental funds.

“The average cost of care for a 4-year-old in a five-star child care center in Johnston County is just over $600,” said Heidi Berge, the partnership’s community outreach coordinator. “More at Four currently pays $515 per child and requires lower staff/child ratios and more highly educated teachers, which drive the cost of care even higher.”

In Johnston County, Berge said she estimates that the cost to provide early childhood education and developmental services is $73.7 million for fiscal year 2009-10.

“While the need has increased by nearly 45 percent in the past five years, service dollars have only increased by 5.5 percent,” she said. “Current funding for 2009-10 is $30.8 million, only 42 percent of the total need.”