06/26/14 — Partnership for Children hopes state plan will include more money for programs

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Partnership for Children hopes state plan will include more money for programs

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 26, 2014 1:46 PM

Executive Director of Partnership for Children of Wayne County Charles Ivey would like to see the N.C. Pre-K program expanded.

But at this point, he will be happy if state funding keeps things status quo.

"We're very hopeful that the legislators will allocate Smart Start to the same extent that they did last year," he said. "And even though we would like for our programs to grow, at this point in the political game, we're excited about maintaining."

No official word has come down from the state, but Ivey admitted he is "anticipating their dollars" as he puts together his agency budget.

"Just like the commissioners, the Board of Education, we adopt a tentative budget," he said. "It is identical to the budget we had last year."

Unlike previous years, Ivey is guardedly optimistic about how things might unfold.

"This is actually a pretty good year," he said. "It appears that we may actually have a (state) budget by July 1."

At this point, two budgets have been passed by the legislators, he said, and there is the likelihood of a slight increase in the N.C. Pre-K program. It could translate to an additional 8 to 10 slots for students, he said.

"This past year we had 508 slots," he said. "That was down from a high of over 650, our peak, I would say the year before I came, we're talking 2010.

"Since that time it has decreased. It's held steady for the last couple of years."

According to the proposed state budget, it could fund anywhere from 700 to 1,000 new slots for at-risk 4-year-olds, but that is for the entire state. When broken down by county, Ivey said it translates to approximately 10 to 15 spaces.

"That's not enough for an entire classroom," he said. "We have tried to have 18 students in a classroom."

The inability to increase the program has resulted in a perpetual waiting list, he said.

"Normally, there are anywhere from 75 to 100 students on our waiting list at any time," he said. "This past year as late as May, when students were moving out, we had students to move in to their slots.

"We're still trying to get them in the 4-year-old program, get the experience as much as possible. To me that makes a statement how important any exposure for an at-risk 4-year-old is."

Beyond the funding concerns, the former educator said one of his biggest challenges is making parents aware of the need for a quality preschool experience.

Unfortunately, though, at this point the playing field is not level for every child.

"Some parents are able financially, socially, intellectually to provide that for their own children," he said. "But some don't have the skills, some don't have the funds, some just don't have the time. That's where we see children at-risk.

"The whole idea at this point for the NC Pre-K program is to provide those children at-risk with those experiences."

The term "at-risk" can entail a variety of variables.

"The state defines at-risk, whether it be economic, military is considered at-risk, ESL (English-as-a-Second-Language) students are considered at-risk, kids with special needs," Ivey said. "We know we cannot touch every 4-year-old but those who are at-risk."

Ivey said his fear is for those children who fall between the cracks because there are not programs to provide the education for them.

"That's the reason that I feel personally NC Pre-K needs to be expanded," he said. "Does every child need NC Pre-K? That's a subject to debate. As a safety net, no. But they could still come in behind the eight-ball."

The bottom line, he said, is that children are "born learning" and as such, benefit from interaction and communication.

"They're sponges, they're building that brain," he said. "We have just got to get the word out there to parents to provide Pre-K experiences one way or another -- educate parents, educate our child care providers and help them help their kids. Show the need and then fulfill that need."

Until the state announces its budget, though, Partnership for Children is unable to assign Pre-K spaces.

"We plan for them but we don't let anyone know until we know how many we can afford," Ivey said. "We generally let child care centers, the schools, the private centers or Head Starts know how many slots they have assigned and then they help us notify the parents," he said, explaining that also includes informing some that they didn't quality or will remain on the waiting list until space opens up.

"We're still getting applications. We actually get applications all during the year. As new families move into the community, parents realize they need help for their child."