In a sign you really can’t do more with less, the state’s Head Start programs will serve fewer needy children as they head back to school this month.
The Budget Control Act of 2011, more commonly called sequestration, resulted in a 5.27-percent budget cut to the Federal Office of Head Start. Local programs are supported by federal grants, and with less grant money, things are looking grim.
The state’s seven Head Start programs will receive $800,000 less, as the cumulative budget drops from $15.1 million to 14.3 million, according to Ben Allen, Head Start collaborator for the state.
In terms of employment, the budget cut results in 15 fewer teaching positions and seven fewer people performing home visits. All told, the number of people working in Head Start programs has been reduced from 585 to 552.5.
Fewer workers mean fewer services. In September of 2012, the state had 1,572 spaces available for children and pregnant women. Next month, there will be 1,373 spaces available, meaning 199 fewer at-risk and vulnerable children and their families will have access to services such as health and dental care referrals.
“I think very few people understand the impact of sequestration,” said Marianne Miller, director of Head Start and Early Head Start for the Central Vermont Community Action Council, which serves Washington, Orange, and Lamoille counties.
Sequestration hit Miller’s programs early. This summer, her Head Start locations closed their doors, leaving 115 families without services for nine weeks.
As it is, only half of the people who are eligible for Head Start services — for example, those with an annual household income of $19,530 for a family of three — actually receive them, according to Paul Behrman, chairman of the Vermont Head Start Association.
“The whole notion we are scaling back these programs is just lunacy,” Behrman said. “It makes no sense to cut these programs when we are already not reaching everyone who is eligible.”
The budget cuts are hitting every corner of the state, including Windham County, where Head Start programs lost six of their 70 employees and this fall will be serving 37 fewer children and their families. The next cut will likely be to transportation, said Debra J. Gass, executive director of early education services for the Brattleboro Town School District.
“We bus our children in from our more remote areas, and without transportation, many children will be unable to attend Head Start,” Gass said.
The value of Head Start can be measured by the data, such as that collected by the Champlain Valley Head Start. Between 2009 and 2011, the percentage of children who needed dental work and received it rose from 76 percent to 89 percent. During the 2010-11 school year, the percentage of children who were prepared for kindergarten rose from 30 percent to 61 percent.
Sequestration cuts are expected to be deeper next year, unless action is taken by the U.S. Congress. For more information, or to send a letter to a member of Vermont’s Congressional Delegation, visit www.saveheadstart.org.
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