Federal Budget Cuts Hurting Head Start Programs

Sep 9, 2013

Fewer kids living in poverty are able to attend Head Start this school year due to the federal budget tightening known as sequestration. Head Start has been helping young children living in poverty get ready for school since 1965.

Here in Washington state, the sequester cut more than $7 million, forcing local program directors like Mathew Solomon to make some hard decisions. After just a few years serving about a dozen families at a time, Solomon had to shutter a Hear Start classroom in Wishram, Washington, a small town along the Columbia Gorge where almost all of its 350 residents live in poverty. 

Solomon says having to close the classroom is Wishram goes against Head Start's mission of helping the poorest of the poor. 

"In those rural areas where you are cutting small amounts of people, it's a large part of the population. Unlike a large urban area where there are more social services, in these (rural) areas, there aren't; there's nothing."

A total of 750 fewer children will be able to attend Head Start programs in Washington as a result of the federal cuts. Nationally, the cuts are affecting 57,000 children. While some programs in Washington are closing outright, others are operating with trimmed staff, pay cuts and shorter school days. 

Head Start isn't just about getting preschoolers ready for kindergarten. It also requires a lot of participation  by the parents. In return families get help with things such as finding jobs and affordable housing. 

The sting of losing federal dollars is being eased by an additional $22 million for early childhood education funding approved by state lawmakers. It's unclear how much of that fund, which will become available next year, will benefit the families who got squeezed out of Head Start.