Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Smart Start next on the chopping block?

There's been a lot of debate locally about whether the Bright Beginnings pre-K program should be scaled back as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools tries to close a $100 million budget gap. But over in Raleigh, a pitched battle is brewing over another treasured early childhood education program: Smart Start. Smart Start is a statewide network of 77 local groups focused on improving childcare, parenting and children's health. Spending targets Republican leaders in the General Assembly unveiled yesterday include possible consolidation or elimination of Smart Start and the More at Four preschool program.

Rep. Beverly Earle called me the other day voicing indignation about what she called a "witch hunt" by the conservative Civitas Institute. One of its policy analysts, Andrew Henson, has been requesting reams of data from Smart Start offices across the state. On Tuesday, Henson revealed his findings to about a dozen House representatives at a meeting where Smart Smart backers were not invited to speak. News accounts said his analysis found concerns over "excessive bureaucracy and the potential for a lack of oversight."

Rubbish, say Smart Start backers. They packed the hearing to show their support for the program. Regular, state-mandated audits have turned up few problems, they contend. Jane Meyer of Mecklenburg's Smart Start says her group hasn't had any audits turn up major problems in her 9 years at the helm. "This is nothing but harassment," Earle says. "It's nothing but a witch hunt. Like if they keep looking they'll find something to justify taking" money from the program. Henson and Civitas appear undeterred. A Civitas blog post Wednesday questioned why so many Smart Start officials could turn up for a legislative hearing when they ostensibly should have been working.

Stay tuned. I suspect we'll be hearing lots more about all this before the state budget is adopted later this year.


Anonymous said...

Hope they do cut it. it doesn't improve test scores - just provides a baby sitting service at taxpayer expense.

Anonymous said...

Surprise, surprise, surprise. Just another FREE social service the Democrats provide to one of the few remaining constituents they have left, after the labor unions, that is.

Anonymous said...

Not one fing word of salary reductions.

Catholic101 said...

Smart Start needs to go, as well. Power to the parents!

Wiley Coyote said...

News accounts said his analysis found concerns over "excessive bureaucracy and the potential for a lack of oversight."

Sounds like the school lunch program where tens of millions of dollars in fraud abound, not just in the lunch program, but every other program attached to that FRL number...

From the Smart Start website"

Did You Know...
A baby is born with one billion brain cells? These cells form connections with each experience your baby has. By age two, a healthy, developing child can have as many brain cell connections as an adult.

That makes YOU your child’s first and most important teacher.

A child who does not receive early nurturing and proper care can suffer from physical, emotional, and cognitive delays.

...That makes you YOUR child's first and most important teacher.

That sentence valids the fact Bright Beginnings should be totally cut as many of us believe, because it IS the parent's responsibility to ensure their child is ready to attend school and not the state or local government!

Larry said...

Beverly Earle is like a lot of Elected Officials from the old days, apparently has never seen a government program that she did not like.

She prefers to have the Government protect us from all the rough edges of life mentality to get elected, that has been nurtured over these last several decades.

What we have finally realized is that we can afford to round off some of the corners, but a lot of them are still going to jut out and some of them are going to be left out and very sharp.

In fact we are going to have to make sure we do everything ourselves to avoid ending up near those edges and not depending on the government from keeping us from them as we navigate our own personal lives.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more with the other comments. The gov't is not in business to babysit. Off with this entitlement program.

Anonymous said...

Smart Start provides enormous benefits and oversight to health, safety and early childhood education programs funded by the state. There is bureaucracy because of the high level of auditing that local Smart Starts provide over the programs they fund. The Smart Start system ensures that state funds directed to local counties for kids ages birth to 5 are used as that county needs. Meck's needs aren't the same as Bladen County's, for example. See for some of the programs funded in Meck and I think the naysayers will be surprised to learn about the variety of programs funded here. For example, services to help abused children and children with developmental delays, dental care for low-income children and training for child care teachers. It is not the same as More at Four, but it does provide some funding to M@4 in Mecklenburg. It also provides additional subsidy funds to pay for child care so low-income parents can work and earn money.

Wiley Coyote said...

How many redundancies are there?

From the Mecklenburg County Health Dept. website:

During the past several decades, Public Health Departments in the United States have assumed a greater responsibility for providing medical services for underserved citizens. As a result, many people associate Public Health with providing medical care for the poor and disadvantaged. In fact, many citizens do obtain high quality medical care at their local Health Department. However, that is not the complete picture of the role that Public Health plays in making our communities healthier.

From the Smart Start website on health services:

I believe there are potential overlapping services between what the County does and Smart Start.

As with the school lunch program, I have no issue with it or any State or County services provided free to anyone, as long as they truly qualify for them.

Eliminate waste, eliminate excuses, eliminate redundancies.

Michael said...

"Jane Meyer of Mecklenburg's Smart Start says her group hasn't had any audits turn up major problems in her 9 years at the helm."

Is that because her group hasn't had any audits? And if they have, what's the definition of "major problems" -- getting caught?

This already smells like more of what's been served around here....

therestofthestory said...

Outstanding Larry and Wiley! Absolutely right about Beverly Earle.

The more we dig, the more it sounds like the old Bureau of Indian Affairs that had more people working in it than the "Indians" they supposively oversaw.

You see what decades of unfettered Democratic program expansion has done. And you expect the Republicans that inherited this mess to clean it up in one weekend?

Anonymous said...

I believe that we could provide pre-k for children in our state but it should be more regulated, perhaps in a public school setting. A lot of directors are getting paid a lot of money and it is not all neccessarily going to help the children!

Wiley Coyote said...

Why should we provide pre-K?

Right now, we're doing it to the tune of $11 million+ just within CMS that serves 3,200 kids.

Imagine the cost if we provided it for every child.

It still boils down to parents taking responsibility for their child before they enter kindergarten.

Unknown said...

Smart Start of Mecklenburg County goes through audits every year alternating between state auditors and North Carolina Partnership for Children internal auditors. Clean audits for 9 years straight means something.

We are not ALLOWED to duplicate services as the legislators have set up our organization with this restriction. However, we may fund something like More At Four because they are not able to meet the current need at current funding levels. Therefore, it is not duplication, but attempt to fund gaps in services.

Also, many Smart Start partnerships bring local constituents to Raleigh, but those on staff who choose to go take a vacation day to do so. The others are people from the community who support Smart Start and believe in our mission.

Anonymous said...

Wiley Coyote, please note that Smart Start doesn't provide the services itself, rather it provides the funding to places including the Health Dept. to offer those services, and then audits those places to make sure they are using the funds correctly. THEN the state auditors audit the Smart Start partnerships to make sure they are doing the oversight properly.

I used to work for a Smart Start partnership, and I can assure you that there is a tremendous amount of regulation and oversight on these funds. In addition, the regulations specifically prohibit duplication of services, so you needn't worry about redundancy.

Wiley Coyote said...

What is Smart Start?

Smart Start is North Carolina’s nationally-recognized initiative to ensure that every child reaches his or her potential and is prepared to succeed in a global community. Smart Start helps working parents pay for child care, improves the quality of child care and provides health and family support services in every North Carolina county.

So what you're saying is that Mecklenburg Social Services, NCDHHS and the Health Department do not provide any benefits or programs for any resident that already get these services through Smart Start or vice versa?

Anonymous said...

I do believe that the parent is a child's first and most important teacher...however in a country where a large percentage of families have two working parents, teaching your kids on evenings and weekends just won't cut it. "Wiley" may have been able to stay at home for 5 years to teach and educate his/her kids(if any???), but most working moms/dads can't afford to take 5 years off work. If I have to work, I would rather have my child at high quality early education programs, than with a babysitter or nanny during these important formative years.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if anyone has ever correlated participation in Smart Start and similar programs to high school graduation rates or some other long-term outcome measure? The programs can sound great on paper, but what measurable differences do they make?

Anonymous said...

Smart Start sounds a bit like the United Way, existing primarily to provide a high paying job to its director and well paying jobs to the rest of its employees. As a taxpayer, I am tired of feeling like an employment service for bureaucrats while professionals in the private sector continue to lose ground.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 2:49..

My wife and I both work(ed), paid for daycare and pre-K and started our son a year early at CMS.

We always made time to help him for whatever was needed; learning to read, do basic math, etc in addition to what he was being taught in daycare and pre-K.

He will graduate in June speaking Japanese and Spanish fluently and with a working knowledge of several other languages.

We also did this without any help from government, especially back in 2000 when both my wife and I were laid off from our jobs 6 weeks apart, lost both company cars and a household income of $140,000.

As I stated in a previous post, I have no problem funding programs for the truly needy, but waste and fraud must be eliminated - no matter what agency is funding it.

Anonymous said...


I can appreciate where you are coming from as my husband and I worked and paid for our childrens' daycare and pre-k as well without govt assistance. Obviously your son got a great start in life because of you and the early education he received in daycare and pre-k. Should we deny another child this advantage just because they are not growing up in a household with $140k income?

Truth be told, if your son attended daycare or pre-k anywhere in Mecklenburg county, he reaped the benefits either directly or indirectly from some Smart Start funded program....

Anonymous said...

As I contemplate the vast array of worldwide mission trips so many churches of every denomination in our community support (that students use to fulfill "community service" hours to beef up their high school resumes), I'm highly conflicted with issues pertaining to poverty here at home.

Beyond writing a check, how many of us really spend a significant amount of personal time on the other side of the train tracks in our own city? Face-to-face time that doesn't require the cost of a plane ticket to Haiti, Bulgaria or Africa?

I do find it interesting that Oprah (who I think we can all agree on is a liberal Democrat) chose to build a school for girls in South Africa after several trips to Chicago public schools where she felt (to paraphrase) most students took their educational opportunities for granted.

Anonymous said...

Apparently we still have a problem with the "wrong" people having too many children (which could be as many as ONE for some people).

But it's OK as long as we keep subsidizing them, I guess.

This country is slowly slipping further down the global food chain as a result of our stupidity.

Anonymous said...

Basically, we need to confront the reality that SOME of our kids are just not going to cut it in the global marketplace.

It's unfortunate, but true. They are a burden on society that will probably only get worse as they get older.

We have proven that our people just do not respond well to warnings of a dire future, so the best thing we can do is just let it happen for a few decades.

Then, maybe, just MAYBE, SOME people will appreciate all the help (such as free public schools) they have squandered.

Anonymous said...

We need to stop feeding all our pearls to our swine.

Wiley Coyote said...


Unless Smart Start funds church programs that do pre-K programs, I highly doubt they had a hand in any of it.

What advantage would we be denying and child?

The state and county have health care for the needy. We have the school lunch program (rife with fraud I might add). We also have libraries where children can go to programs and if nothing else, sit with their parents and read a book.

As I stated before, I have no problem providing basic services for those who truly cannot afford them.

The definition of affordability depends on who you ask or what guidelines are in place.

Here is the link to an op-ed piece Bill Clinton wrote to the NY Times about how he and the Republicans ended welfare and increased spending on some of the very programs you support.

The last 10 years have shown that we did in fact end welfare as we knew it, creating a new beginning for millions of Americans.

In the past decade, welfare rolls have dropped substantially, from 12.2 million in 1996 to 4.5 million today. At the same time, caseloads declined by 54 percent. Sixty percent of mothers who left welfare found work, far surpassing predictions of experts. Through the Welfare to Work Partnership, which my administration started to speed the transition to employment, more than 20,000 businesses hired 1.1 million former welfare recipients. Welfare reform has proved a great success, and I am grateful to the Democrats and Republicans who had the courage to work together to take bold action.

The irony of Clinton's 2006 op-ed piece on the 10 year anniversary of his welfare reform came as Democrats took over the House and Senate and began to systematically dismantle all of those gains Clinton boasted of.

Buried within the stimulus bill rammed through Congress by President Obama and the Democratic leadership are measures that dismantle the momentous 1996 welfare reforms and create a massive new infrastructure of dependency. According to Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector, who played a critical role in crafting the landmark legislation passed 12 years ago, the stimulus bill would increase welfare spending by close to $800 billion over 10 years, about $22,500 for every poor person in the United States and more than $10,000 for every family paying income taxes. Worst of all, it contains a new mechanism that virtually insures welfare spending and caseloads will rise in the future.

Wiley Coyote said...


I see we have the phantom posts again.

It gets quite tiring to put time into a post, posting data or facts, only to have them disapear.

Is there a character limit? Is there some mechanism that auto-deletes posts that contain certain links or quotes?

Anonymous said...

See, this is where I find myself in stark conflict and confusion as far as picking a side on the issue of Bright Beginnings, Smart Start, Headstart, Success at 6, etc..

My father holds a PhD from an Ivy League University. He is a retired public school superintendent who earned a law degree as part of his midlife crisis - in favor of buying a Porsche or hiking the Appalachian Trail. His mother was a public school teacher in rural Penn. who taught in a one room school house with no running water, a coal stove and a coed outhouse where students pooped and peed into a pit. My father grew up in a stable two parent family that placed God as the divine head of the household. Getting an education was considered a privilege, not a right.

By contrast, my mother was raised in NYC by a single mother who was married 5 times and, quite frankly, was one of "those" despicable parents who had no business having children. Fortunately, my grandmother had only had one child - my mother - who was molested and raped by one of my grandmother's many boyfriends. My maternal great-grandmother abandoned all three of her children at a young age who were dispersed among relatives.

So, I guess you could say my family is as functional and dysfunctional as it gets.

My mother never had the opportunity to attend college. When I started college at age 18, my mother decided to enroll at the closest community college near our home town. After earning an Associate Degree, my mother transfered to UConn where she completed a B.A. in Sociology with honors.

Therefore, I'll keep my swine mother who rightly earned a fine string of uncultured pearls.

Thank you to the compassionate people who intervened on my mother's behalf throughout her life, because without them, I would not be alive today.


Eric Frazier said...

The Smart Start folks have already commented to answer some questions about potentially duplicative preschool programs, but I'll post this e-mail I received from Jane Meyer, Mecklenburg's Smart Start director, further specifying the distinctions between Smart Start, More at Four and Bright Beginnings:

The differences between the programs:

1. Bright Beginnings – is a local pre-k program for at risk 4 year olds (special needs and/or educational need) and is housed and administered by CMS.

2. More @ Four – is a state-wide pre-k program for at risk 4 year olds (special needs/below poverty level) and is housed in quality child care centers as well as CMS classrooms.

3. Smart Start – is an early childhood initiative for children birth to 5 that prepares the whole child, through early care and education, health, and family support to ensure they are ready to enter school healthy and ready to succeed.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Wiley, I'm still stumped. Trent Merchant emailed me earlier today to say he'd had the same experience. I'm not sure how to get an answer to this, since isn't really an Observer technology. If there's a character limit it must be quite a long one, as you can see from some of the comments.

Anonymous said...

I believe the first teacher of a child should be the mother. Why would you even want your child to start school before age 5/regular kindergarten? If a child isn't ready for school naturally and with normal development by age 5, delay school for a year. And mothers, if you can't stay home to care for/ teach/parent a child until kindergarten starts, why aren't you using birth control until such time as you and your husband get a handle on your careers, finances and such? My taxes are paying for this babysitting service.

Ann Doss Helms said...

On disappearing comments: I emailed everyone in the newsroom to ask about this. One of our editors says we can file "an official question ticket" but it helps to have specific examples. Wiley (or anyone else who's experienced this recently), do you know roughly when this happened? And can you describe content if there's something that may have triggered a problem?

Wiley Coyote said...


I had no pofanity or anything like an embedded object. Just a link to a story about Clinton's Welfare Reform act to make a point.

It posted, showed in the column as posted, but when I came back it was gone.

As you and I have discussed before, it was the same scenario.

If I had the time (which some people think I have a lot of since I post here frequently) I would write in Word and post it, then if there was a vanishing act, I could paste it again.

Entirely too much trouble.

Anonymous said...

Disappearing comments have been a problem here for a while.

Duplicate comments appear to have been solved.


Larry said...

Hey do you want to know how to do it right? I went to see this operation as I thought no way this could be real, but it is!

I am not selling this school just the results. We could do this here and with the same results.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead.

Wiley Coyote said...


I appreciate and understand the definitions of the programs.
Here is what you posted regarding BB:

1. Bright Beginnings – is a local pre-k program for at risk 4 year olds (special needs and/or educational need) and is housed and administered by CMS.

We’re spending over $11 million dollars on BB (one fact sheet I saw several years ago had the cost at $16 million) on a program that is not state or federally mandated and by all accounts does nothing more to prepare students beyond the second grade v. students not enrolled in a pre-K program. Dr. Gorman has stated that fact.

We can continue to use terms or classifications such as “at risk” or “special educational needs” but what does that really mean?

Anyone can say their child is “educationally needy”. That’s the problem we have with the school lunch program. People know they can’t be audited yet we pay tens of millions of dollars to people who don’t qualify.

I had to sit through my third parent/sports meeting at West Meck the other night and listen to the athletic director talking about how he didn’t have funds to cover the cost for all the sports and that his gate receipts amounted to $30,000 but expenses were $36,000. He also stated the $100.00 participation fee went to save middle school sports this year but they would probably be cut next year and high schools would be getting the $100.00 next year.

Next, he went over the FRL form to fill out in order to play sports for FREE. He also stated if you didn’t qualify but were having a hardship, you could get a waiver.

As I sat there listening to him, it was apparent this man had no clue or didn’t care that a very small percentage of parents, including ME, are paying to subsidize these sports programs while a LARGE percentage who SHOULD BE paying like me, are not. Think of how much more money could be available if the waste and fraud were rooted out of this program.

Why do we continue to allow the status quo? Why do continue to fund a program like Bright Beginnings when parents should be the ones teaching their young children and not having taxpayers subsidize it, especially since there isn’t much data to show the program is worth it?

More at Four needs to get a pink slip as well.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Current year's BB budget is $21.3 million, though 88 percent of that is federal (the rest county). There's also $12.7 million in federal money that passes through CMS for More at Four.

Ann Doss Helms said...

On disappearing comments: Apparently this is an ongoing problem with (someone finally suggested I check their question section -- duh!).

Here's a link to someone who's tallying and offering tips:

Cato said...

I wonder if anyone has ever correlated participation in Smart Start and similar programs to high school graduation rates or some other long-term outcome measure? The programs can sound great on paper, but what measurable differences do they make?

From what I understand, the academic literature on these seems to indicate that any effect programs such as these may have is pretty much gone by the end of elementary school. By graduation, there is no measurable difference in the graduation/performance rates of participants vs. non-participants. If true, then they're the glorified baby-sitting programs their critics allege.

If there's scholarly literature to the contrary, please share, but include links where possible.

Anonymous said...

Go ahead and feed your pearls to your swine.

Just don't expect to feed my pearls to your swine.

Anonymous said...

And don't expect me to turn your sow's ear into a silk purse.

Not part of my job description.


therestofthestory said...

Ann, I just wanted you to be sure you knew that the dollar amounts you gave for BB from the feds is only because Dr. Gorman moved this out of the county dollars to the federal stimulus bucket as part of his budget reduction plan last year. Oh by the way the budget ended up $10 million than the previous year. Gosh, I wonder where all those "savings" went since the budget ended up more than the previous year? (tongue in cheek sarcasm)

Secondly, yes there has always been some federal dollars in this program because somewhere along the way, the federal mandated program for the special needs kids got moved under this umbrella. Actually this was a brilliant political move to fight any end to the BB program.

In conclusion from all the anti-cut comments posted, there seems to be plenty of energy to have these programs moved to private dollars. Especially when you see all the comments about bureaucracy and regulations in the programs.

therestofthestory said...

Larry, which schools did you go visit? I have been following this organization for awhile but have not been able to end up in one of the cities mentioned on the website on other business.

It seems to be somewhat of a mix between HAZ and KIPP. I am not sure but again what you find is an "escape" for those students and families who have the thirst but the public school is so much of a social services machine, education is a second thought.

Anonymous said...

Government programs breed corruption, a select few running the show benefit in some way, maybe a few who truly believe they are doing good try really hard but in the end it all goes terribly wrong and the kids are just outa luck. Get real people in the community to get involved, make the parents step up, keep it simple and keep the government out of every little corner of our lives!

Anonymous said...

The majority of the posters are being screwed by the Republican Party's extreme agenda, but they would rather keep their targets focused on children. You get just what you desreve!!

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 5:33,

I could say the same thing about the Democrat Party playing the same entitlement handout game with its constituency and running our federal, state and local governments in the toilet funding them.

Anonymous said...

It all boils down to PREvention and INTERvention. While you may feel that eliminating "wasteful" programs such as Smart Start are necessary immediately, we will surely pay the cost as a society in the future. Early childhood education programs are vital to disadvantaged children. While I may not have been a beneficiary of a Smart Start program, I have however been the recipient of various government services both as a teen and young adult. Coming from a disadvantaged background myself, as a teenaged mother, receiving childcare subsidies and having my son attend an early childhood education program assisted us both in being able to better ourselves and in turn create more opportunities or our future.
It is because of programs such as these that I became the first member of my family to complete college (graduate school even). And yes, to my work ethic obsessed conservative “pull yourself up by the bootstrap” friends, while receiving this assistance, I am proud to say I remained employed, and yes, I have financially contributed to my college education. What I feel many of you are failing to understand is that these programs allow many young mothers (once like myself) to stay employed or attend school. In fact, being a current employee of a Smart Start funded program here in Meck Co, I can attest that in order for our mothers to receive services or a childcare subsidy, they are required to provide quarterly proof of either full time school attendance or employment. Provisions must be earned....not just given.
Our scientific evidenced-based curriculum aids us in preventing situations where children are at-risk for child abuse and neglect and assist our families in helping them learn how to be their child's first teacher through healthy modeling, identifying barriers to age-appropriate developmental milestones, and yes...postponing additional pregnancies until they are able to maintain and self-sustain.
So, back to my first point: Smart Start is about providing both preventative services and intervening in circumstances that may prove detrimental to a young child.
Either we pay a small price short term now to educate or we pay later with a long term cost to provide a lifetime of services to a child with a developmental delay that could have been prevented, to have a child placed in foster care for abuse or neglect, or continuing to feed into a multi-generational cycle of poverty.
I have included various links to articles relating to the long term benefit of early childhood educational programs for those interested. For those of you who are fiscally responsible, view it as an investment. As cliche' as it is sounds, education or incarceration? Which avenue is cheaper?



Betty said...

Smart Start is SO important to many families. A lot of people here believe that parents use the program as a babysitting service or to transfer the responsibility of teaching their children to others. The truth is that while some parents may do so, others are VERY much willing to help their children but they don't know how.

It is a blessing if your parents gave you the resources you needed to succeed in life, but some parents never had this, and are not able to pass what they don't know to their children. Smart Start provides programs to EMPOWER parents and give them the knowledge (such as literacy skills, abuse/neglect/bullying issues, health and fitness, etc.)that they can pass down to future generations.

Children (and their families) are smarter, healthier and happier because of Smart Start. I know from experience after seeing lives change after participating in Smart Start programs.

Anonymous said...

Smart Start helps to fund so many different programs and services, not just child care. Also, every county has different needs that Smart Start dollars help to fund. For example, in Union County Smart Start dollars help to fund a dental program, breastfeeding support, a resource/lending library, an inclusive play program, as well as child abuse prevention programs for parents and teachers, among others.

Instead of nagging about what you don't like being provided in your own county, research (even VISIT!)the many other wonderful programs that are funded throughout the State of NC, and not just the Great State of Mecklenburg.

Stephanie said...

Considering the massive amount of research regarging early brain development and the long term effects of early education type programs, cutting programs like Smart Start is one big step in the wrong direction. The programs that Smart Start funds directly impact the lives of young children, moving to get them prepared to learn and help ensure a successful school experience.

David said...

Wiley and Anonymous friends, read Nick Kristof's latest column wherein he strongly advocates early childhood education: