Head Start programs across the nation have eliminated services for over 57,000 children this school year due to across-the-board sequester cuts, according to reduction plans submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 18,000 Head Start employees will be laid off or receive pay cuts, and 1.3 million days will be cut nationally from the program’s school calendar, the plans state.
The cuts will impact poor families who rely on the service for child care and to help prepare their children for school, says Sally Aman, spokesperson for the National Head Start Association advocacy group.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimated earlier this year that sequester cuts would cause 70,000 children to lose access to Head Start services. Though the actual number was lower, centers in some communities have closed completely, while in other locations individual slots have been eliminated, Aman says.
Head Start and Early Head Start programs offer preschool instruction, medical screenings, meals, and other services to more than 1 million impoverished children nationwide.
To keep as many students as possible, program administrators let go of staff, decreased medical screening services, eliminated transportation, and shortened the school year, Aman says.
“The goal of Head Start is to prepare children so they are ready to hit the ground running when they enter kindergarten,” Aman says. “All of the program’s elements—the academic, social, medical, and family pieces—have been put in place so that child walks into kindergarten as prepared as their peers.
“School administrators must be aware of the devastating effects of budget cuts for our nation’s most disadvantaged kids,” she adds. “There will be downstream impacts when they enter kindergarten.”
Cuts will continue through 2021 unless Congress changes the sequester law. Head Start programs will have to cut an additional 5 percent in the 2014-2015 school year, Aman says.