"It's the new legislative leadership," explained Anson County Partnership for Children executive director Elaine Scarborough. "They have verbally said they're considering consolidating both Smart Start and More at Four at the state level. We're facing either consolidation or complete elimination."
Although the Partnership raised more than $40,000 at its annual Barn Blast fundraiser in late January, and also receives grants from various agencies, the elimination of Smart Start and More at Four funds would be a devastating blow.
"All of our funding is threatened with elimination at this point," Scarborough said. "The only thing that can change that is our community saying to these legislators that we need these programs in Anson County."
Scarborough stressed that it's not Anson County's state legislators that are pushing for the elimination of Smart Start and More at Four. Former Rep. Pryor Gibson, new Rep. Frank McGuirt and Sen. Bill Purcell are all "very supportive" of the Partnership for Children, she said.
"The people who use our services, have benefited from our services, the families whose children have been in More at Four, families who have gotten free car seats at our car seat checkpoints, child care providers who have gotten free training--those are the people who need to call and say, 'please don't cut our funding,'" Scarborough said.
Without Smart Start in Anson County, the letter states, there would be huge cuts in subsidies for children in child care, which could result in children having to leave child care and their parents unable to work; no literacy programs such as the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides free books to more than 1,000 Anson County children each month; no grants for programs that help teen mothers; no Week of the Young Child parade; no family support programs such as breastfeeding classes; and the list goes on. In addition, without More at Four, 160 children each year would not receive free pre-kindergarten classes through the More at Four sites at Morven and Ansonville Elementary Schools, Anson Children's Center, Central Head Start, Faison Head Start or the Open Doors Center at First United Methodist Church in Wadesboro.
"We know everyone is facing budget cuts but our services--Smart Start and More at Four--are the only ones that are threatened with complete elimination," Scarborough said. "Thankfully, we're not talking about eliminating Cooperative Extension or libraries but it is along those lines. Every county in the state has a Partnership for Children, and every county has a board that decides what services are needed in that community."
The More at Four funding provides free pre-kindergarten classes for 4-year-olds at several sites throughout the county. "The funding comes to us and we place them in the sites," Scarborough explained. "The money flows through our office to them. These are our neediest children in Anson County."
Smart Start funding comes through the Department of Health and Human Services and funds the early childhood resource center, child care centers, book distributions, car seat checks and breastfeeding programs. "Smart Start is really how our organization started," Scarborough said. "We wouldn't have the staff to do the many other things we do without Smart Start."
Two statewide organizations are pushing legislators for Smart Start and More at Four elimination, Scarborough said-- the John Locke Foundation and Civitas. "Both of those organizations have for many years pushed for elimination but there wasn't any support for that in this legislature until this year," Scarborough said. "This is the first time they've had enough support in the legislature to make it happen."
The John Locke Foundation advocates for parents, not the government, to provide the services that Partnerships for Children throughout the state currently provide. One article on the foundation's website refers to Partnerships' services as "government-controlled nannies."
Civitas, on the other hand, believes that too much of the funding for these programs is going towards administrative costs. "Especially in the course of a recession, North Carolina needs to ensure that more of its funding goes to children and families struggling to make ends meet," one article on the organization's website states. "Large administrative expenditures do nothing to improve the lives of children, but rather siphons off critical tax dollars from the most needy and vulnerable in our society."
Along with the letter circulated to Partnership supporters is a list of the state legislators that Anson citizens can contact to voice their opposition to the elmination of these programs. The closest legislator to Anson County is Rep. Justin Burr, who represents Montgomery, Stanly and a part of Union County. He can be reached at (919) 733-5908. The Partnership for Children can provide a complete list of the legislators that should be contacted.
Scarborough also planned a visit to Raleigh with community members on Tuesday and again on April 12 to lobby against elimination of these services. Scarborough can be reached at email@example.com, or at (704) 694-4036.
"I don't want to tell people what to do," she said, "but if people value the services of the Partnership for Children in Anson County, please speak up."