Reeling from a broken marriage and jobless, Diana Hoard came to Kansas City looking for a fresh start. Then there was sequestration.
By BRAD COOPER
The Kansas City Star
Across-the-board cuts in federal spending took a bite out of Head Start, dashing Hoards hopes of getting her son into the all-day program that would save money and lay important groundwork for success in school.
Hoard wanted to enroll her 4-year-old son, Elijah, in Head Start in Lees Summit, but it was closed because of that ugly four-syllable word that slashed the federal budget, including $400 million for Head Start.
This is huge for us, Hoard said. Education is whats going to help my kids do better, and Head Start was supposed to be part of that and its not.
Hoard placed Elijah in day care. Hes learning, but its costing her $320 a month on wages of $8.50 an hour she earns as a cashier while raising three kids.
The added expense might mean shopping at thrift stores, not running the air conditioner as much or even forgoing a Christmas tree, she said.
I will do what it takes to make sure Elijah is going to get the education that he needs, she said. I will sacrifice what I need to for that.
But for many low-income parents, Head Start is the only option, and now its going to be less of one.
Nationally, the cuts mean 57,265 kids an estimated 1,561 in Missouri and 554 in Kansas will be denied access to a program that prepares low-income children for school and provides meals and health care.
In the Kansas City area, about 200 Head Start slots have been eliminated in Jackson, Clay and Platte counties and about 50 more in Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas.
For families who cannot afford to send their children to a very expensive preschool program, this is the only shot their kids get, said Liz Smith, director of Head Start at the Mid-America Regional Council.
Overall, Head Start agencies had to cut their budgets by 5.3 percent. Programs across the country have been cutting costs different ways, by reducing the number of students served, cutting staff and trimming transportation.
In some places, Head Start has been eliminated. The Kansas Childrens Service League, for instance, laid off eight staffers and eliminated Head Start in Kingman, Pratt and Stafford counties in western Kansas. The move affected 43 children.
Locally, the cuts have not been as severe, but they have had an effect. Some examples:
• The Lees Summit Head Start program serving 34 children has been closed. Many of those children have moved onto kindergarten, meaning that the biggest impact will be on children who wont get into the program in the future.
• The Shawnee Mission Head Start program has cut slots for eight children and reduced bus service to the program to 10 from 30. It also eliminated two full-time staff positions.
• The YMCAs Raytown Head Start program serving 74 children has been closed. As in Lees Summit, the reductions will mostly affect future students.
Childrens advocates have decried the cuts because Head Start has generally been seen as key for helping low-income children succeed once they enter school.
Research has shown that high-quality, early intervention can reduce the chances that a vulnerable child drops out of school, becomes a teen parent or is arrested for a crime.
In terms of the national agenda, it saddens me, said Jim Caccamo, director of early learning at the Mid-America Regional Council. Where we really need to be is building more and stronger early-learning programs.
Even before the cuts, Head Start was reaching just part of the eligible population. Nationally, the program enrolls about 39 percent of eligible children. It gets to 20 percent of the eligible population in Jackson, Clay and Platte counties, according to MARC.
In Kansas, it reaches 22 percent of the eligible children in Johnson County and about 45 percent in Wyandotte County, according to Kansas Action for Children.
We were already struggling to meet the needs of the eligible children we have and this will further erode access to Head Start for our poorest children, said Shannon Cotsoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children.
Even Republicans who oppose big government spending argued that Head Start is falling victim to an ill-advised way of budgeting.
Republican U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas has called for cutting spending to lower the deficit. But arbitrary, across-the-board cuts are not the right approach to reduce federal spending, he said in a statement.
It is time for Congress to pass responsible appropriations bills that prioritize programs, like early-childhood education initiatives, that effectively and efficiently serve the American people.
Republican U.S. Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri has long been a supporter of Head Start because of its goal of helping less affluent students prepare for school, a spokesman said.
Like Moran, Graves wants budget cuts but prefers to see them directed at specific government programs so that across-the-board cuts dont touch programs like Head Start.
By making the targeted cuts now that rid wasteful spending from the budgets of federal programs and agencies, we can help ensure that we never have to resort to sequestration-style cuts again, Graves said in a statement.
To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to email@example.com.