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Wednesday, 19 September 2012 12:30

Where state candidates stand on preschool for low-income children

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The fate of state-subsidized preschool for at-risk, low-income 4-year-olds rests in the hands of the next General Assembly. The state currently does not provide enough funding to serve the estimated 67,000 children who meet the definition of at-risk.

This year, a 20 percent budget cut to NC Pre-K (formerly known as More at Four) further reduced capacity of the program — which currently serves only 26,000 children — and has lengthened waiting lists.

A recent N.C. Court of Appeals ruling unanimously held that it is unconstitutional to deny children who meet the eligibility requirements, a ruling that could force the state’s hand in deciding whether to expand the program, cut it or change eligibility requirements.

Here’s what the candidates had to say on the issue.

 

N.C. House of Representatives, District 119

This seat includes all of Jackson and Swain counties and half of Haywood County (namely the Waynesville and Lake Junaluska area, including Iron Duff).

Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville

“What researchers have shown through the past several decades is the earlier you invest in a child, particularly a child at risk, the better your outcomes are. It is money where it makes a real difference in real lives, the future prospects of a generation. It is just smart.”

The cuts, on the other hand, were “not smart,” Queen said.

“It is not good government. It is not good education policy to cut the most effective investment first. It is just politics. They didn’t like it for ideological reasons, but it is not good public policy. I am in favor of investing more early. We need to make it a priority. And it will be a priority of mine.”

Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City

“I think we are getting into something where the schools are being used as a babysitting service, and parents are shirking their responsibilities. Parents need to accept responsibility that they had that child and need to have that child interacting in the community.”

Clampitt said that he personally doesn’t believe the state should undertake a massive expansion of state-funded preschool, from both a philosophical and economical perspective, but would ultimately obey the wishes of people in his district.

“Before a decision would be made on my part in any direction, I would want to find out what the constituents in my community want. If you want it, tell me how you want to pay for it. Do you want to pay for it with more taxes or do you want to cut something somewhere? Everybody wants something, but nobody wants to pay for it.”

 

N.C. House of Representatives, District 118

This seat includes Madison and Yancey counties, and half of Haywood County (namely Maggie Valley, Canton, Clyde, Bethel, Cruso, Crabtree and Fines Creek).

Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill

“I strongly opposed the cuts to More at Four. We are trying to make sure we get these children off on the right foot. To me, this is a no-brainer.

“We are in cutting mode and eating our seed corn. Either we will be turning our back on the fundamental values of this state, or we are going to have a Democratic majority and Democratic governor to push to restore our children’s future.

“We need to set about trying to find the money to make sure this globally recognized program continues to be supported.”

Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville

“Education at all ages is very important. We hope they will be able to put their right foot forward in an early school environment. I am aware of all the opportunities it provides. But right now, it is very expensive, and we have very little money. When the economy improves, and I am sure it will, maybe we can afford it a little bit better.”

Presnell said the state cannot afford to add any more children to the program and questioned whether some families are taking advantage of it.

“A lot of if falls back on because we have so many single parents, they are just using it as free babysitting.”

 

N.C. Senate, District 50

The seat includes the seven western counties, including Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain.

John Snow, D-Murphy

Snow believes it’s penny-wise and pound foolish to cut to state-funded preschool for at-risk children.

“That is absurd in my mind. When you take a 4-year-old and increase their opportunity to get an education so they can make a living and contribute to our economy, you think that is big government? I don’t think so. That is smart government. Academically, it builds a child up.”

Failure to offer early childhood education for at-risk children costs society in the long run.

“They end up being dropouts, and the dropouts end up in our court system. To try to get them back on line is expensive.”

Jim Davis, R-Franklin

Davis questioned the philosophy of state-subsidized preschool for 4-year-olds and instead believes in personal responsibility.

“I think the greatest gift a father can give his kids is their mother at home. Why is it the government’s responsibility to lay the foundation for these kids to be prepared? Is the state then not incentivizing the parents who aren’t getting the job done to have kids?

We are dealing with real problems in society and government can’t fix them all. You can go broke doing good things, and that’s assuming it is a good thing.”

Davis defended the recent cuts as eliminating fat, including high administrative salaries, from the program.

“I want the money to go to the kids where it is needed, not to a bloated bureaucracy.”

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