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General Assembly More At Four Plans a Major Setback for Our Neediest Children

The proposed changes in the Senate budget to one of Governor Easley’s finest policy initiatives, More at Four would be a major setback for our neediest children. The Senate guts the spend and changes the program into a child care subsidy program housed in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Without question, the changes would dramatically water down the quality of the More at Four program, and alter eligibility criteria such that some of the neediest students currently in More at Four programs – those with disabilities or whose parents do not work – either would no longer be eligible to participate or would ask of their parents a child care co-pay that they could not afford. It is clear that the very neediest children would not be able to access this fine program after 09-10 if present child care subsidy rules are maintained.

All this comes at a time when More at Four is being recognized as one of the finest and most effective early childhood intervention programs in the country. As Rochelle Williams blogged today, the Rutgers University National Institute for Early Education Research today released its State of Preschool Report 2008. More At Four is ranked equal best program in the nation. But the ranking came with a caveat:

“We are concerned that unless funding per child increases in North Carolina, programs will have to undercut quality…”

The best research on early childhood intervention stresses the need for targeted, quality programs. More at Four is both high quality and targeted at our neediest children. The Senate budget undermines the program’s quality and messes with the targeting.

Rigorous cost/benefit analyses of programs like More at Four nation-wide show that they produce a net economic benefit. The economic return on one dollar of investment in high quality targeted education programs for at risk, low income family three and four year olds averages around six dollars according to a recent study by Professors Arthur Reynolds and Judy Temple from the University of Minnesota. The Senate’s budget cuts and ill-advised re-casting of More At Four are false economy.

Double trouble for More at Four

It is not the only cloud on the horizon for More at Four, either. House Bill 539 would also mandate that the program would move over to DHHS and merge with the North Carolina Partnership for Children – the organization responsible for administering Governor Hunt’s signature program, Smart Start.

Questions as to the wisdom of this hastily hatched plan abound. One aim is to open the program to more students. That’s fine if they are at-risk. Otherwise, what is the aim given what we know about the relationship between effectiveness and the need for targeting? Will greater enrollment mean less spending per student? What happens to quality? What about pursuing evidence-based policies? Is that out the window now? Also: Are these programs similar such that administrative efficiencies would truly be achieved? What is wrong with the present administrative arrangment that needs changing? How will the merger affect the children served by More At Four, both in the transition period, and over the long haul as presumably, eligibility requirements change?

I don’t hear many answers to these questions. Alas, it is not at all clear that the many sponsors of H539 have them or have even thought to ask the questions.

5 Comments

  1. Susan Parsons

    April 10, 2009 at 7:34 am

    Stop the merger of smart start and more @ four or at least do a study of this action before making a decision. We must remember that the children come first and deserve the best educational opportunities that we can give them. Thank you for your help and consideration.

  2. Amanda Knighten

    April 10, 2009 at 8:19 am

    As an educator I worry what this merger will do for at risk children. This includes lower income children that I feel are being punished with this bill because of life circumstances that are out of their control. All Pre-K children will lose if this merger goes through. By eliminating at risk children it will change the dynamics of the classroom and the overall Pre-K experience. Please stop and do a study before you act. I believe if you look at the program through a study you will see that there is no need to fix what isn’t broken.

  3. Tory Anderson

    April 10, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Children and education are not being the number one priorty with this movement. Please stop this merger and place children first. More at Four is a wonderful program that is presently serving many children that are at risk, it does not need any changes.

  4. Brenda Toledano

    April 12, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    This must not happen, this program serves the most neediest children in the state and if it were altered or merged with another program, it would be a serious setback and huge mistake. The quality of the program, as well as the teachers and all the other staff that makes up ma4 would also be compromised greatly. This is the time to focus and invest in our future- the children. It has been proven time and time again that a good foundation- layed by a wonderful pre-k program such as ma4 -sets up children for sucess when they enter school!! This program enables those children that can not afford quality pre-k an opportunity for that very sucess that they will need when they enter school and that they deserve.

  5. Terry mccollum

    April 13, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    As a 14 year Paraeducator in the More @
    Four program, I am concerned for these children! They are our needy at-risk children and they do so well in this program, transition to Kindergarten is much easier when you are aware of letters, colors, shapes, literacy and math applications all learned through play or playful instruction, things are learned in Pre-K that you and I taught our children without even thinking about it, these children do not come that prepared. Please do not take this nationally acclaimed program from these children , please help them have a bright future.

    Terry McCollum
    April 13, 2009 @7:20pm