The good folks at Action for Children NC weighed in today on the devastating proposed cuts in early childhood education contained in the House Republican budget.
Raleigh, NC – The House budget bill passed by the Appropriations Committee yesterday would essentially eliminate state pre-kindergarten in North Carolina, according to early education experts and child advocates.
The bill, which will be voted on by the full House of Representatives next week, would cut Pre-K funding (“More at Four”) by 20 percent – a much bigger cut than the 9.6 percent cut to K-12 education or the 14 percent cut to higher education. Advocates say the cuts would be detrimental, but the elimination of the basic structure of what has been a nationally-lauded program would be the worst blow.
“The House proposal would eliminate the critical features that make the program successful,” said Carolyn Cobb, Outreach Consultant with FirstSchool Initiative, FPG Child Development Center at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Maintaining the integrity of North Carolina’s educational Pre-K system is critical to ensuring the quality of education and academic opportunity for our state’s most vulnerable young children.”
Under the House proposal, there would be no requirement or ability to pay for licensed teachers, and no support for effective teaching practices or the implementation of curricula provided by the state education agency. The proposal would move Pre-K out of Education and into the Division of Child Development, under Health and Human Services, which would undermine the current quality standards, especially a high-quality, licensed Pre-K teacher workforce. The Division of Child Development administers and regulates child care and child care subsidy. The agency is not designed nor staffed to support an education program.
Early education experts in the state argue that managing Pre-K through the child care subsidy system would dilute its funding, undermine teacher quality, and interrupt coordination with K-12 education, which they say is essential for seamless learning in the early grades.
“Many Pre-K classes in public schools would be discontinued because of new barriers imposed by a child care funding model that does not fit with public education,” said Cobb. “It would also be almost impossible to coordinate with federal sources of Pre-K education funding like Title I and special education, which the state does really well under the current system.”
The proposed cuts and structural changes are coming just as North Carolina’s Pre-K program is receiving national accolades. More at Four was one of only five state programs in the nation to score a perfect 10 on benchmarks for quality standards according to The State of Preschool 2010, a report just released by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). This is the sixth year that More at Four has ranked among the top pre-K programs in the country, and the third year for which North Carolina’s program met all 10 quality benchmarks. On other specific rankings nationwide, North Carolina placed 19th for access to preschool and 13th for state spending per child enrolled in preschool.
A decade of independent evaluations conducted by the FPG Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill has also shown that More at Four is effective in boosting student achievement over the long term. The most recent study, completed in 2010, confirmed that economically-disadvantaged children who attended More at Four performed significantly better on statewide third grade reading and math tests than similar children who were not served by the program. The study also found that the gap between average test scores of economically-disadvantaged students who attended More at Four and middle-class students was reduced by between 25 and 40 percent, depending on the test and the year. Previous independent evaluations of More at Four also have consistently shown that children served by the program show growth beyond developmental expectations in language and literacy, math and social skills.
Child advocates agree that pre-K is an evidence-based, proven program that improves outcomes, particularly for the most vulnerable children.
“If we want to address the dropout rate and close the achievement gap, we must start in these earliest years,” said Barb Bradley, President and CEO of Action for Children North Carolina. “Both Democratic and Republican Governors and legislatures have implemented high-quality, educational Pre-K programs, because the research simply supports it.”
“As an educator, psychologist and researcher, I know that there are few areas of educational research that show as powerful educational outcomes as Pre-K,” said Cobb. “Significant gains on longer term educational success for lower income and at-risk children – as well as benefits for society in lower welfare costs, higher employment and the like – have been found over and over again. When Pre-K is coupled with continued high quality teaching and learning in grades K through 2, the outcomes for children’s educational success are even more significant.”
Advocates point out that North Carolina has long invested in early childhood, and those investments have produced three nationally-recognized components of early childhood education: high-quality Pre-K (North Carolina is one of only five states to meet all national standards); a high-quality child care system working continuously to raise quality; and Smart Start, which works in ages 0-5 to increase quality in child care, support families, promote healthy development and increase literacy.
“These three initiatives have coordinated closely over the years to leverage resources, ensure coherent policies, and support each other,” said Bradley. “By eliminating a key piece of this quality picture – along with 20% budget cuts to Pre-K and Smart Start – this bill would drop North Carolina from a national leader in Pre-K and early childhood education to the bottom of the pack.”