Head Start facing federal funding cuts

By Joe Moskowitz
Budget battles in Washington that have resulted in automatic cuts to government spending, popularly known as sequestration, may soon claim young victims in Arkville.

Project Head Start, a pre-school program aimed at kids from low-income families, is facing an income problem of its own. Sequestration is resulting in a five-percent reduction in funding for Head Start, and that is forcing the people in charge of area Head Start centers to make some serious choices.

Hamden-based Delaware Opportunities operates nine Head Start centers in Delaware County, including ones in Arkville and Grand Gorge. Executive Director John Eberhard says there is no way his organization can absorb five-percent cuts and maintain the quality of the program.
However, he says the quality of the program cannot be diminished. That, he says, may mean fewer kids may be allowed to attend.

Eberhardt says Head Start has a policy council, most of whose members are parents. The advisory group will discuss the problem and submit its recommendations to the Delaware Opportunities Board of the Directors. Their choices are limited. Eberhard says the worst-case scenario would be to close an entire center.

Program guidelines
Head Start programs are geared for children ages three to five years old. Parents who decided to send their kids to a pre-school program used to have two choices. They could chose between private day-care centers, including religious ones, or, if they qualified financially, Head Start. That changed when area public schools started offering universal pre-kindergarten.

Eberhard says public school pre-kindergarten required Head Starts to recruit more aggressively, but he says it provides more kids the opportunity to get an early start on education. Head Start employees say that the majority of the kids who go to Head Start are now three years old, too young for pre-kindergarten.

Head Starts operate on a fiscal-year calendar that begins in February, so the cuts won’t have any effect for the remainder of this school year. He hopes congress and the president can reach an agreement so that the cuts can be restored.