The N.C. House recently released its FY 2011-2013 budget, being forced to cut from a swath of programs in order to get the state’s deficit of over $2 billion under control. One organization impacted is the early childcare subsidy program More at Four: losing $32 million in funding. The program is currently administered under the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and tasked with enabling at risk or low-income children to enroll in a daycare program including a learning curriculum that would otherwise unavailable to them. While funds are being removed from the program, changes included in the budget will prioritize the program’s focus: providing an inexpensive quality education for children.
Key to minimizing the impact of lost revenue and maximizing remaining funds is More at Four’s transfer from DPI to the Division of Health and Human Resources, specifically the Department of Child Development (DCD) – which will be designated as the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE). Current DPI administrative rates rest at 8.18% compared to current DCD administrative rates of 5.17%. This immediate reduction in administrative costs channels more money into subsidies, reducing fiscal losses and minimizing the impact on families.
The administrative restructuring is a necessary maneuver, otherwise budget cuts would force 6,500 childcare subsidy slots to be shed should it remain under DPI. However, said changes included in the House budget coupled with lower DCD administrative rates would reduce that number to only 2,600 slots lost, falling to 29,000 subsidies available from its previous level of 31,000.
A further step to minimizing the effects of funding loss is the implementation of mandatory co-payments that do not exist under current DPI administration. Parents will typically be required to pay 10% of their annual salaries to keep their child in the program, bolstering revenue and funding more subsidies. This co-pay constitutes a very low cost to families for a high quality program (as compared to non-subsidy childcare). Adding co-payments to the former More at Four program would bring it into line with the remaining forms of childcare subsidies (Smart Start and those administered by the Department of Social Services) available for children in North Carolina.
In a time in which many programs that benefit underprivileged citizens will be facing serious fiscal restrictions, it is important that the government prioritize helping the most needy, especially in times of fiscal stress. While unfortunate cuts were made, the current budget implements well meaning policies that drastically reduce potential loss, serving the maximum amount of children and providing them with a positive start on life.