June 2, 2011
Dear Senator Blake and Representatives Lewis and Stone:
The Lillington Chamber of Commerce would like to express its support for North Carolina’s Smart Start Program. We understand that this year’s state budget presents a tremendous challenge and that many programs are facing unprecedented cuts. It is our hope that North Carolina’s nationally recognized Smart Start and More at Four Program will not receive disproportionate cuts nor be severely curtailed in the ability to serve children, families, and their communities, particularly in rural areas such as Harnett County. Smart Start has provided a unique approach by allowing local partnerships to determine what is needed to address gaps in services and offer programs that go directly to the heart of early childhood needs.
The services provided by the Harnett County Smart Start Partnership include services to children from birth to age five and their families to help ensure that children enter school healthy and ready to succeed. Services include Child Care Subsidy Services that allow parents to work or attend school while helping their children to be better prepared for kindergarten. Health and Family Support Services include parenting education, support for reading programs and health screenings and referrals. Early Care and Education Services allow teachers working in child care centers who typically earn minimum wage, to receive a salary supplement if they complete college coursework in the early childhood education field.
Smart Start has been heavily evaluated since its inception in 1993 and has demonstrated responsible stewardship. Local Smart Start agencies are audited for financial and programmatic compliance every two years using the state auditing policy, the most stringent in the state. The most recent audits of 41 local Smart Start agencies resulted in absolutely no findings.
If the Smart Start Program is greatly reduced, our local economy could see the impact of a loss of up to thousands of dollars. Locally owned child care centers and homes would be especially hard hit as well as the parents who may not be able to work or continue to go to school. And the impact on our children would be especially devastating as many would lose the services they are currently receiving.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a 2010 report that stated, “Early childhood education has a tremendous impact on the national economic security and viability of the American dream.” In addition, preliminary research released this month by Duke University found that investments in Smart Start generate broad educational benefits in helping children to be more successful in elementary school.
The Lillington Chamber of Commerce is committed to working with local organizations and businesses to support the development of an educated workforce to improve the local economy and the quality of life for our citizens. We know from research that the early years are critical times for a child’s brain and emotional development and that programs such as Smart Start have proven to be solid investments in the future of our children, our economy and our community. A resolution regarding our support is attached.
We urge you to consider the important economic and educational role that Smart Start plays in local communities across North Carolina, and encourage you to strive to maintain this valuable program that has wisely invested in our most important resource – our future generation.
Charlene Edwards, President
Lillington Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors