Advocates for Smart Start, North Carolina's nationally-recognized early childhood program, spoke out today against cuts to the program included in the budget proposal that's expected to pass the Senate next week.
"A lot of people have commented on how the House budget and the Senate budget disproportionately decreases services to children and families and in particular, those who are less fortunate," said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney. "That is particularly the case with our Smart Start program and the cuts to it."
Smart Start began under Democratic Governor Jim Hunt, and it's long been a target of conservatives who say the program is bloated and top-heavy with administration.
The House spending plan proposed to cut the program's funding by 20%. The Senate proposal would keep that cut, and would also shut down the central office that administers the program, the NC Partnership for Children. Instead, Smart Start would be merged into the Division of Child Development, and local administration programs would lose more than half of their operational funds.
Senate budget writers say it makes sense to cut the program's administrative costs and use the money for services instead. But Partnership Chairman Dr. Olson Huff said gutting the administration would effectively shut down the program, which has been hailed as a national and global model for early childhood education.
"Make no mistake about it," Huff said. "The actions that have been taken in the budget of the Senate would dismantle Smart Start."
Huff said Senate leaders who say they want to improve K-12 education should reconsider the cuts. "You do not build a house by starting at the second story. You've got to build the foundation first," Huff said. "That's what Smart Start does."
"Cutting services for our children at a time when we need their skills and abilities the most is not the right way to go," he added.
Watch the whole press conference at right.