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Fighting Funding Cut Threat with Social Media

April 7, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. - Using a YouTube video, supporters of Smart Start - which is threatened by budget-cutters in the legislature - are fighting back with the help of business heavyweights including an engineer who designs high-tech military weaponry. They're pushing the need to invest in helping kids in the preschool years. Smart Start and other programs that do that are facing consolidation or elimination.

Thom Wilcox, who builds communications systems for warships at General Dynamics, has jointed the campaign. He says politics are behind the cutting efforts.

"I'm a very conservative thinker myself, but I also feel that when it comes to children, this is not a political issue, this is a future issue."

Human services programs across the board are threatened as the state tries to deal with an estimated $2.4 billion shortfall in the coming fiscal year. Advocates say the early learning industry employs almost 50,000 North Carolinians, allowing 380,000 parents to work.

Wilcox, who appears in the video, says he thinks opponents of continued funding for programs like Smart Start mistakenly think they help only the marginalized sections of North Carolina's population. However, he says his family is economically well-off, yet he and his wife benefited from a course in parenting from the Allamance Partnership for Children.

"We both have master's degrees but neither one of those degrees helped us when it came time to be parents. We knew what we wanted to teach our children, we knew the values we wanted to teach them, but we didn't know how to do it effectively."

The YouTube video is called "It's My Business." In it, Verna Graff-Gessaman, an RBC Bank executive, says the state's economy and child care are intrinsically linked.

"Investing in children is good for employees and employers. Two-thirds of all North Carolina children under 6 live in homes where all parents are working. If we want to attract businesses, we need quality child care."

Thomas Keller, Dean Emeritus of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, also appears in the video.

"During these tough economic times, we must invest in programs that we know improve the outcomes for children."

Smart Start has launched an email campaign aimed at sending links to the YouTube video to state legislators who are grappling with the budget.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NC