Kristi White’s three children have all gone through the Parents As Teachers program in either Blue Springs or Lee’s Summit. She said the parent educators gave her insight as to how she should work with her children, making sure they were developing appropriately.

Kristi White’s three children have all gone through the Parents As Teachers program in either Blue Springs or Lee’s Summit. She said the parent educators gave her insight as to how she should work with her children, making sure they were developing appropriately.

“They provided a true gauge of where my children should be expected to function in their motor and fine skills as well as academically,” she said. “Some people say that doctors can do that as well, but you just don’t get the same attention or insight in a doctor’s office as you do when the person comes to your home and visits your child ‘in their element.’”

So when White learned that the Blue Springs Parents As Teachers program as well as others throughout the state were taking massive budget cuts, she said she was a little more than upset.

“In our state, there is such a focus on high achievement and at an earlier and earlier age,” she said. “This just completely takes the legs out from under any progress that has been made.”

The $23.3 billion budget approved by the Missouri General Assembly in April included catastrophic cuts to Parents As Teachers, cutting its budget from $30 million during the 2009-10 school year to approximately $13 million.

The program, which originated in Missouri more than 20 years ago, is free and voluntary and provides in-home visits as well as developmental screenings, parent-child group meetings, speakers and playgroups.

Blue Springs Superintendent Paul Kinder said the cuts in state funding left the school district no choice – 31 part-time parent educators were let go, leaving only six full-time employees for next year.

“Just two years ago, the budget for Parents As Teachers was $35 million,” he said. “I believe even more cuts will be made, maybe dropping funding below $10 million.”

Blue Springs is not alone in reducing the program’s staff. Fort Osage lost seven staff members, leaving only three for next year. Independence lost 13 of its part-time parents educators and Lee’s Summit lost 10.

“I am not surprised the cuts were made because the money had to come from somewhere,” Kinder said. “Right now, it is a question of what the program will look like in the future.”

Although specific changes will not be known until later this summer, one thing is clear – services will be diminished. Kinder said there is a possibility Parents As Teachers will only serve “high-need” families. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education could also establish a sliding fee scale for those families who want services, but do not qualify.

“It depends what the fees are,” said Kinder of establishing a fee system. “The fees would have to be enough to pay for the program, but we would not want it to be cost prohibitive for parents. I think it would be very difficult to do that.”

White said with the cuts to Parents As Teachers, she is afraid that expectations will be lowered for children. She said she hopes that somehow, the state and school districts can find money for the program.

“I know that ultimately, educating our children is our responsibility, but having a program like Parents As Teachers certainly gives people some assistance when they need it the most,” she said. “Whether it is through more public educational classes rather than home visits, or reduced number of visits, or something else they can do, I feel like it is such an important time in a child’s life. The schools and government should do everything they can to keep this wonderful program going.”