Sliced federal funds could affect Head Start kids - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Sliced federal funds could affect Head Start kids

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By Tara Bozick

Local children may lose their spots in Head Start preschool programs if a proposed federal budget cut goes through.

A budget bill that recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives would cut funding nationwide for Head Start by about $1.1 billion. Yet, the proposed $6.15 billion in funding is almost a 24 percent cut because Head Start needs $8.1 billion to maintain the current number of children in the program, national Head Start advocates said.

Danville and Pittsylvania County Head Start program directors don’t know how this would affect local programs yet, but worry that cuts would affect the children and families most in need in the area.

“We just need to think. Head Start is an investment in children and their families,” said Danville Mayor Sherman Saunders, also executive director of Pittsylvania County Community Action Inc., which administers Head Start in the county. “ … I do not understand the rationale for these cuts.”

The National Head Start Association is fighting to keep funding and estimates the proposed cut in H.R.1, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act that determines spending for the rest of the year, would result in 3,340 young children in Virginia losing their spots in Head Start.

This year, 204 children in Danville and 102 children in Pittsylvania County are enrolled in federally funded Head Start programs.

Three- and 4-year-olds in low-income families would be at a disadvantage starting school if they couldn’t access Head Start or another preschool program, said Director Joan Robbins of Danville Head Start. The Community Improvement Council, Inc. administers the Danville program.

“It’s very vital that we reach these children at an early age,” Robbins said.

In 2009, 51 of 59 local Head Start students tested — 86 percent — scored above state screening benchmarks upon entering kindergarten, she said.

Head Start is not just school readiness, but is a comprehensive program that fosters parent involvement in children’s education, including volunteering on committees. It includes medical, dental, mental health and nutrition services.

Head Start searches out the children most in need and eliminates barriers that prevent children from doing their best, said Director Rosa Carter of Head Start for PCCA serving Martinsville and Pittsylvania, Henry and Campbell counties.

On the economic side, Head Start provides people with jobs so they can support their families and pay taxes, she added. About 50 employees work with PCCA Head Start and 51 work with Danville Head Start.

Saunders emphasized that Head Start is not a daycare program and he understands the need to cut back on government spending.

“Cut spending, but pick and choose what you cut,” Saunders said. “Don’t cut the programs that work, and Head Start works.”

Of low-income students, those who complete Head Start are more likely to finish high school, go to or finish college and fewer go to jail, said Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association. Yet, with current funding only 40 percent of eligible children are served.

The association estimates for every dollar spent for a Head Start child, $7 comes back through increased earnings, employment and family stability and decreased welfare dependency, grade repetition and crime costs.

“It is such a good investment. We have no clue why it’s been cut,” Vinci said. “… Communities are getting really upset about it.”

Lawmakers have until Friday to finalize the federal budget.

Head Start budget

2010: $7.234 billion

2011: $7.235 billion

2012: $8.1 billion requested

(Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families)

Proposed U.S. House funding for 2011: $6.152 billion

Head Start enrollment

Danville: 204 children, 42 children on the waiting list

Pittsylvania County: 102 children, 10 on the waiting list

(Source: Danville Head Start, Pittsylvania County Community Action Inc.)

Estimated effect in Virginia of proposed Head Start cuts

3,340 spaces for children lost

921 jobs lost

246 classrooms lost

(Source: National Head Start Association)

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