Saving Bright Beginnings: Early Education in Charlotte

At a time when schools are struggling to close budget deficits, districts across the country are making hard decisions about program cuts. In Charlotte, North Carolina, a popular prekindergarten initiative is at risk of being defunded. Schools offering Early Childhood Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Bright Beginnings funding cuts education classes classroom budget deficits Charlotte

A Program Threatened

Bright Beginnings, an early childhood education initiative of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), is a Title One program designed for four-year-olds from underprivileged families. In place at 18 district locations, Bright Beginnings aims to provide 'a child-centered, literacy-focused curriculum to ensure that children are prepared for success in kindergarten and beyond.' It has been hailed by many as a national model for pre-K education.

This praise, however, has not saved Bright Beginnings from proposed cost-cutting measures. Facing a deficit of $100 million, the CMS board has proposed cutting $10.4 million from the program's annual budget. This is roughly half of the current operating expenses for Bright Beginnings. Parents and early childhood education advocates alike have voiced concern; such a budget reduction would eliminate about 2,000 spots in the program.

Bright Beginnings funding cuts education classes classroom budget deficits Charlotte

Filling a Need

Implemented fourteen years ago, Bright Beginnings was an initiative taken by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to address a growing achievement gap between white middle-class children and poorer minority students. The program has seemed to pay dividends. Past data has shown that children who participate in the program are likely to perform better in grades K-3; they are held back less often and more likely to score above grade level on tests.

Education experts have long held that programs like Bright Beginning are an effective way to foster the kind of learning that will lead to improved achievement in later academic years. And while they acknowledge the difficulty of balancing budgets, they suggest that early childhood education offers the greatest return; dollars spent on younger students can help prevent substantive academic problems that are more costly to remediate.

Bright Beginnings funding cuts education classes classroom budget deficits Charlotte

An Undetermined Fate

After twice delaying voting on whether to slash funding for Bright Beginnings, the CMS board has decided that it will wait until May to decide the program's fate. After listening to community members, the board has floated the idea that program adjustments may be possible to able to help keep the program largely intact. Possible solutions suggested by the board have included cutting it down to four days per week or making it a half-day program.

If a budget solution does not emerge and cuts to Bright Beginnings are made, many families will have to fund children's pre-K education at private providers, an expense the neediest families will not be able to afford. Board president Eric Davis hopes to come up with a solution, but has warned that Bright Beginnings is only part of funding equation: 'We're trying to not only save one program that's particularly beneficial to children in this community; we're trying to save an entire school system.'

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