When he took office, Mayor Adrian Fenty declared his vision of “a city where every child…will have access to high quality early childhood education programs.” But according to some activists, his first budget doesn’t bear out the kids-first message.

Under the budget proposal released last month, the Department of Human Services’ Early Childhood Development Program is slated to have its overall budget cut by $2.5 million.

The mayor’s proposed budget shuffles money, increasing funding to one portion of the program by $4.3 million but draining $6.2 million from another. The cut has raised an outcry from early education advocates, who worried that the Early Care and Education Administration (ECEA) would have to remove up to 1,600 low-income children from a program that subsidizes early education.

“The Fenty administration is making the claim that the cut is not going to affect services, but I don’t understand how that’s possible,” says Susie Cambria, deputy director of DC Action for Children, a group that works to improve access to quality early care and education.

Fenty’s top budget aide denies that the reductions will force the city to deprive children of early education. “We’re working with ECEA to ensure that the core part of their program—-providing subsidized child care to kids who need it—-is protected,” says William Singer, chief of budget execution in the Office of the City Administrator.

According to Singer, the $6.2 million cut corrects an error in the city’s fiscal 2007 budget, in which extra funds were incorrectly allocated. The proposed 2008 budget moves $4.2 million from “child care services” to “child care development provider services,” where it should have been in the first place, Singer says.

The result is a net loss of $2 million, though Human Services head Kate Jesberg says additions to other programs in the budget bring the total reduction to less than $500,000. The proposed budget does not specify what programs will take the hit, instead leaving it up to the discretion of the ECEA. According to Jesberg, one program that will go is a child-care services hotline.

The confusion over the cuts is not winning Fenty friends among child advocacy groups. “Instead of formulating a plan to ensure that every child has a strong start, we’re disputing an analysis of budget reduction to early education,” says Jesse Bailey, campaign manager for Pre-K for All DC. “And that’s not where we need to be.”

Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells is more forgiving of the bumpy start.

“Hopefully, it’s just the newness of the administration,” he said at a hearing Monday at which child advocates testified.

—-Matt Pelkey