Preschool disconnect

July 8, 2011 

When it comes to the importance of giving preschoolers the kind of boost that can keep many of them from floundering later on, state House Speaker Thom Tillis seems to sing out of the same hymnbook whose pages were well-thumbed by former Govs. Jim Hunt and Mike Easley.

Good for him. And certainly the "church" of early childhood education ought to be ecumenical enough for a business-oriented Charlotte Republican along with those two moderate Eastern North Carolina Democrats.

The only problem: It was Tillis' Republican Party, via its majority in the General Assembly, that curled its lip at this state's two signature early childhood programs when it enacted a state budget so riddled with unwise decisions that Hunt and Easley's Democratic successor, Gov. Beverly Perdue, was moved to veto it. Whereupon, legislators promptly overrode her veto.

The two programs, Smart Start and More at Four, happened to have been favorite causes of Hunt and Easley, respectively. Both are designed to get children ready to take proper advantage of school once they start kindergarten. Both took a 20 percent budget cut.

Tillis, during a meeting with N&O staffers, waxed enthusiastic about bringing kids to school ready to learn, in the context of teaching them what they need so they can live productive lives.

"I'm absolutely certain that some number of those people who are being lost were lost before they even got out of third grade," he said. "They didn't have early childhood development opportunities. They didn't have the core ability to read by third grade. They didn't have the skills they needed to be educated past third grade."

What about those budget cuts? Oh, the folks who run those programs can deal with them through "efficiencies." Guess they'll have to, as best they can. But what if the cuts, another consequence of the Republican insistence on lower taxes, mean that some children miss out on the opportunities Tillis agrees are so vital? For them, it will be small consolation that he knows the words to that hymn.

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