Fighting to Save First Steps

Fighting to Save First Steps
By: Tony Hensley
A Missouri Program helping children with disabilities is not going to be lost without a fight.
“Big fight big fight." Regional Director, Nancy Hale said.
A week ago Governor Matt Blunt announced plans to cut millions of dollars from early childhood special education. Now, thousands of people rise up to fight the governors budget slash. Statewide, the First Steps program costs 23 million dollars. It serves 17 counties in Southeast Missouri and helps more than 8,000 Heartland children between the ages of 1 and 3.
And now people fighting back. Meetings are scheduled and petitions are circulating to save First Steps. Thousands are calling on Governor Blunt to realize how vital the program is in helping toddlers learn to sit, crawl, stand, walk, talk, eat, and play and that's why they're not going to let first steps die without a fight.
Nancy Hale says, “Way up in arms over this."
Hale calls it a budget cut that has many Missourians concerned and upset. So, concerned a petition to save the first steps program is now circulating. So far more than 12,500 have signed, calling on the Governor to keep first steps alive.
Nancy Hale says, ”The petition is directly to Gov. Blunt and we are asking him to reconsider first step funding because we feel eliminating this program will rob our states youngest population a chance to reach their potential."

Julia and Mitch Kinder depend on First Steps therapists to help 5½ month old Ella who has Down Syndrome and their not alone, more than 8,000 families across Southeast Missouri depend on First Steps when their child is diagnosed with a disability.

But, time is running out. With the 4 months left before the program is set to end a meeting is set to try to save not just a First Steps program but, the futures of thousands of children who are on their own without professional help.
“The appropriation education chair person, Katherine Ferris and Wallace Mannered will both be there and these are the two people that can put the money back in for us." According to Hale.

Those two Lawmakers can do more than save childhood special education they can also save more than 200 jobs of First Steps workers.

First Steps employee, Becky Johnson says, “These children go on and reach their goals, live a quality life. Some you will never know they ever had any problems and then there's I'm not going to have a job. I've got to look for a job. But, it's people. That's what the program is about. The people and helping them try to live with some quality."
A meeting is scheduled at the Linn State Technology College just outside St. Louis this Wednesday at 2:45. In the meantime, First Steps employees tell Heartland News they will continue to look for another job just in case their efforts to keep First Steps fail.