MomsRising: Early childhood issues not a game

Group is drawing attention to state budget proposals that will impact children
Apr. 22, 2013 @ 07:06 PM

NC MomsRising, Durham’s Partnership for Children, elected officials and early childhood leaders and advocates gathered together Monday morning at White Rock Child Development Center to bring attention to children’s issues in Durham and statewide.
Children in the center played on a giant Chutes and Ladders game mat from The First 2000 Days Campaign, spread out in the fellowship hall at White Rock Baptist Church. Children also decorated onesies and popsicle stick puppets that MomsRising will bring to the General Assembly in Raleigh. They took another batch there last week, and will again, said Beth Messersmith, campaign director for NC MomsRising, a grassroots organization that has 28,000 members in North Carolina.
The purpose of the giant Chutes and Ladders was to illustrate that “giving North Carolina’s kids a good start is not a game,” according to MomsRising. They cited statistics including that in North Carolina more than one in four children live in poverty and food insecure households, one in 11 children is uninsured, the state ranks in the bottom five for the national infant mortality rate, and the state ranks 48th in the nation in per-pupil spending on public schools and teacher pay.
“When we invest in kids, it makes a difference,” Messersmith said. “If we want North Carolina to compete and children to compete, we need to be investing in them.”
Durham City Councilman Don Moffitt said “we have a moral obligation to every child.” He said that for every dollar spent on early learning, $7 is saved later. With fewer pre-K options for children, problems will continue to compound, Moffitt said.
Aviva Starr, program manager for Early Childhood Outreach Project, said she works with children now who have never been to preschool.
Laura Benson, executive director of Durham’s Partnership for Children, said that it takes the whole community working together for children.
She said that if the poverty level percentage for state-funded pre-K eligibility is reduced, it will devastate children in Durham County. Benson said that what seems like a good fiscal decision now will mean sacrificing the future.
Durham Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden said, “Those guys in Raleigh certainly impact what’s happening here, but we’ll just have to roll up our sleeves and find another way.”
Durham Board of Education member Leigh Bordley said it’s still important to lobby the General Assembly. She said they know Gov. Pat McCrory is proposing cutting teacher assistants and increasing class sizes, but Durham doesn’t want the flexibility to increase class size.
“They’re not giving us the funding that we need. In Durham County, we might be asking the commissioners for a tax increase for a burden the state should really be carrying,” Bordley said.
Durham schools stand to lose 80 teacher assistants, she said.
“What can we do?” Cole-McFadden asked.
Bordley said every citizen could go volunteer as a teacher assistant, but you can’t replace trained teacher assistants.
“How do you change the hearts and minds of people controlling the money?” Cole-McFadden asked.
“I’m more interested in changing the hearts and minds of the people who elected them,” Bordley said. “Durham is a wonderful place, but can also be a bubble,” she said, and they should reach out to others in the state.
That’s what MomsRising plans to do, and will take its Chutes and Ladders game to other cities to bring attention to policies and budget cuts affecting North Carolina’s children. Messersmith said MomsRising wants to educate parents across the state that their future is at risk. They’re collecting stories from North Carolina parents about why pre-K matters and childcare subsidies matter, and asking them to contact their lawmakers to put a face on the issues.
“We can’t afford to wait. It’s shameful we’re failing our children like we are,” Messersmith said. “People at the General Assembly are moms and dads and grandparents. We all want the best for our kids, and we want to connect with them on that,” she said.