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Looking for the "Little Engine that Could" at the Capitol

February 23, 2011

RALEIGH, N. C. - The task of balancing the budget while maintaining state programs appears to be an uphill climb, but one that North Carolina parents are asking state legislators to make. On Wednesday, children and their parents from around the state will don engineers' caps and arrive at the State Capitol aboard a trolley, with toy trains in hand to present to lawmakers. They'll ask them to find a way to protect key children's programs in this year's state budget.

MomsRising, a national advocacy group with 21,000 North Carolina parents as members, is coordinating the event. Campaign Associate Felicia Willems explains the train theme ties the famous children's story about the "Little Engine's" persistence into the message they're sending to elected officials.

"He knew that it was really critical to take care of the children – and so, that's why we're asking our legislators to be the 'Little Engine that Could' for North Carolina's children."

The trolley's arrival comes one day after several Republican state lawmakers gathered to hear a presentation on North Carolina's "Smart Start" program from the Civitas Institute. The conservative think tank based in Raleigh has been critical of the early childhood program and has disseminated what some are calling inaccurate information about Smart Start in the past. Tuesday's meeting was originally closed to the public, but was made open after protests.

Stephanie Fanjul, president of the North Carolina Partnership for Children, the organization that leads Smart Start, says they've received multiple requests for information from the Civitas Institute in recent months.

"Our energy is being taken away from that hard work that we do, to answer really uninformed questions and chase wild tales."

Civitas asserts that Smart Start had mismanaged some funding for child scholarships, a charge that Smart Start denies.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC