Smart Start gets $5 million

By Ret Boney

Smart Start, North Carolina’s public-private initiative to boost early-childhood development, is getting $5 million over five years from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to help strengthen local early-childhood efforts throughout the state and in other states.

Smart Start works with 80 local partnerships across the state to improve early-childhood education and development, and to provide technical assistance to similar programs in other states.

“This is the single-largest grant we’ve received,” says Ashley Thrift, board chair for the statewide Smart Start program. “It will offer us the unprecedented opportunity to grow deeper in all 80 local partnerships.”

Half the grant will be used to strengthen the local partnerships, primarily through improving board and staff training and recruiting, helping local groups raise more money, and maintaining high professional standards for local groups.

“We want to make sure people who work on this reflect our diverse community and we want to engage new champions,” says Karen Ponder, president of the state Smart Start office.  “We call it building friends and funds.”

The remaining $2.5 million will allow Smart Start’s National Technical Assistance Center to expand its work helping other states.

The center already has provided information to all 50 states, and has worked intensively with seven to help them design and put into practice comprehensive early-childhood-education initiatives.

The additional funds will be used to broaden the center’s reach and to provide intensive help to another five to seven states, says Gerry Cobb, director of the center.

Smart Start is “a public-policy and social-policy dream,” says Marvin McKinney, program director at the Kellogg Foundation.

“We were looking for trains that had left the station,” he says.  “North Carolina had a model.  We wanted to really push them so they could give technical support to other states.”

Established by state lawmakers as a public-private partnership in 1993, Smart Start receives $185.7 million in service funds from the state each year, and has raised an additional $200 million from private sources since its inception.

A study of Smart Start conducted in 2003 found that children associated with the program arrived at school with better math and language skills, fewer behavioral problems and better health than other students, says Ponder.

“One hundred fifty thousand children are born in North Carolina each year,” she says.  “We’re committed to seeing that each of them arrives at school ready to learn and succeed in the future.”

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