Support candidates who value early childhood programs
In the Sept. 19 edition of The Smoky Mountain News, there were some disturbing quotes from some of the local candidates for the N.C. legislature in regard to the importance of funding the NC Pre-K program (formerly known as More at Four). This is a program that offers a stimulating educational environment for at-risk children so that healthy brain development is encouraged and kids are ready for kindergarten. As one who has worked with some of the wreckage of this population of children for years, I can say that this is a program that is serving a critical need for our communities. It is taking some of our most fragile children and giving them opportunities to learn and play while teaching and reinforcing basic social skills at a very critical developmental age. Yes, it costs money. But it is either pay now or pay later, and I promise you the pay later option is much more expensive both in dollars and wasted lives.
House candidate Mike Clampitt opines that these pre-schools are being used as a “babysitting service” for parents who are “shirking their responsibilities.” Michele Presnell blames the “single parents” who are “just using it as free babysitting.” Jim Davis wonders if these programs are not “incentivizing the parents who aren’t getting the job done to have kids?” Maybe some of the parents are “shirking” or “using it as free babysitting” or (probably the most disturbing one) using the program for increased fertility, but I would bet that most are not. Do these three politicians think that getting rid of the program will magically encourage this particular subgroup of parents to get it together and start devoting the time necessary for adequate parenting? Hardly.
For some of these kids, this program may be all they have that is stimulating and encouraging them to learn. Some are struggling with trying to make sense of why they are being abused or growing up in a home of unpredictable domestic violence. Some are never read to at night because of chaos and substance abuse in the home. Most parents work hard and do their best, but some parents are never going to get it together. So are we to punish their kids? The sad irony is that by punishing their offspring we are only punishing ourselves in the long run. By not offering these children a chance to start kindergarten on equal footing with their peers both academically and socially is only going to lay the groundwork for yet another generation of the same kind of problems their parents are struggling with. For many of these at-risk kids, school has the potential to be a saving influence, one that gives them an environment of safety and predictability and an opportunity to better themselves.
I have worked closely with the public school systems in Haywood, Jackson and Macon counties for several years. There are some incredibly talented and dedicated teachers and administrators in these systems, but with the education cuts that the Republican-led legislature enacted recently, these folks are struggling to meet the needs of more and more kids with less and less resources. Classroom sizes are increasing. It is therefore imperative to equip these at-risk youngsters with the basic skills they need to be successful in kindergarten and elementary school. For some of these kids, without this opportunity to experience success at school, they are done. A typical storyline involves a kid who suffers through neglect or abuse when they were very young, and as a result they miss out on some key developmental experiences and they are behind their peers when they get to school. This disadvantage often sets the stage for school problems to add to the problems at home, and soon this child stops caring about rules and getting along with others and grows angrier and angrier in his adolescent years. The prognosis for these kids is poor and they end up costing society far more than just prison and medical costs.
An obscene proliferation of campaign signs on our public roadways does not mean that these three backwards-thinking individuals will serve our communities well. We need some people of vision in Raleigh who understand the importance of education, especially early education. Michele Presnell, Mike Clampitt and Jim Davis don’t get it. This isn’t about fiscal responsibility. It’s about the future and investing in our children no matter what the cost.