As preschools lose funding, children left in limbo

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Over the past several years, state spending for the regulation and maintenance of public pre-school programs has wained. These programs were originally developed as a means of giving under privileged children a path into early education, and allow them to develop the intellectual and social skills they need. As budget cuts continue to effect education, however, openings in these pre-schools are becoming harder to find, and many children are left without the opportunity of early education.

Read more at the Winston-Salem Journal  

We miss Jim Hunt’s days as governor.

Hunt, who’s still speaking out for education, did a lot to help underprivileged children by establishing Smart Start, a public-private program that incorporated socialization, health care and some preschool academic preparation. Gov. Mike Easley, for all his faults in other areas, followed up by establishing More at Four, saying the state’s at-risk children needed early academic work.

Today, fewer than half of North Carolina’s children age 4 and younger are enrolled in a regulated child-care facility — either at a formal child-care center or in a regulated family child-care home — the Journal’s Arika Herrron reported recently, citing records from the N.C. Division of Child Development and Early Education.

Only about 1,300 of Forsyth County’s almost 4,000 4-year-olds are in pre-K programs through Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools or in Head Start or N.C. Pre-K, publicly funded programs that serve low-income families. Another 200 to 300 are enrolled in licensed home care or private centers, according to state records.

That’s of concern. But what’s even more concerning is that, as of last month, there’s a waiting list, 500 or 600 deep in Forsyth County alone, of parents who want their children to be in Head Start or N.C. Pre-K, and it can’t go unsaid that the reason they’re not enrolled is the cuts to these programs enacted by the state legislature.

Here are children who want to learn, and parents who want their children to learn. Here’s a state that is traditionally dedicated to quality education for all.

And here’s a state legislature that’s more interested in giving raises to UNC chancellors than providing preschool for 4-year-olds in working families. These priorities are skewed.

Educational researchers have continually touted the value of good preschool, especially for those who come from less financially fortunate families. In homes where parents do not have the resources to provide their children with an intellectually stimulating environment, children do not develop their intellects or emotions as fully as advantaged children.

As some complain about what they see as insufficient deference given to educators by children from underprivileged groups, programs that would help them acquire the behavior that’s expected of them have been slashed. In the meantime, we expect more of our schoolchildren every year.

Private centers have not taken up the slack. There’s a wait there, too, even if they were affordable to all. For example, one local pre-K program costs $165 a week, or about $8,500 a year, the Journal reported.

A steering committee convened by Family Services is currently studying the problem. We hope the committee will be able to find some solutions to make up for the legislature’s shortfall. A combination of more local support and federal grants may help fill the hole.

And as the support and demand for such programs increases, maybe our legislature will see the light and join the fight for quality early education for all of North Carolina’s children.

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