Cuts to state pre-kindergarten and child care certificate programs being considered by Republican legislators would jeopardize local programs, including the largest community pre-K program in the state.
The Martha O’Bryan Center is located in the heart of the James A. Cayce public housing complex. The center provides pre-K services to 60 children and childcare to another 130 kids of all ages.
The cost of operating its three pre-K classrooms is about $360,000, with the state providing a little more than half the funding, according to Martha O’Bryan CEO Marsha Edwards.
Gov. Phil Bredesen has proposed taking $22 million currently appropriated for pre-K funding and making it recurring, but state Senate Republicans presented budget alternatives that could take away the funding for the 2011 fiscal year.
The House and Senate were planning to work until late in the evening Thursday on the budget vote.
That would mean that a year from now, Martha O’Bryan’s pre-K program would be in jeopardy.
“I am extremely worried,” Edwards said. “And I’m worried for the families that we serve because these families don’t have an opportunity to put their children in learning environments, especially ones that are nationally accredited and three-star accredited. There aren’t many opportunities for families that don’t have money for pre-K education.”
Edwards said for many of the parents, especially single mothers, whose children attend Martha O’Bryan, the choice is either employment or staying home to take care of their kids.
It was a sentiment echoed by Stewart Clifton, lobbyist for the Tennessee Association for the Education of Young Children.
“This would impact low-income families very severely,” he said.
The state is also considering taking away $3.5 million worth of childcare certificate funding. Currently those funds go to programs that provide childcare for families not receiving other government assistance.
Edwards said cuts to the childcare program would be equally devastating.
“At Martha O’Bryan, we are all about self-sufficiency,” she said. “We have a single mother with a child, we want her in the workforce. If she does not have that childcare, then she’s not going to be able to work.”
The cuts wouldn’t impact programs until next year, but Edwards said the concern level is high. The poor economy has hurt donations, which account for the balance of the center’s funding.
Metro Councilman Mike Jameson, whose district includes Martha O’Bryan, said there would be a ripple effect if the center had its funding slashed. Single mothers would logically be forced to rely on other government programs, if they couldn’t work because of a lack of childcare and pre-K services. That could leave Metro to pick up the slack.
“Martha O’Bryan is probably one of the premier charitable ventures in East Nashville if not all of Nashville,” Jameson said. “The sad reality is that cuts to Martha O’Bryan are compounding… If you eliminate services that include, for example, childcare for impoverished men and women, you’ve now eliminated their ability to work.”
The state provides just over $100 million for pre-K funding, three-fourths of which would continue to be a recurring contribution under the Senate Republican’s funding proposal, Clifton said.
There was some dissent from House members about whether to keep the funding recurring, but Clifton said negotiations on the issue would continue.