Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) was joined by representatives of local Head Start programs to announce the $1.1 billion cut in state Head Start programs as part of the spending plan passed last week by the House of Representatives.
The cut would result in 10,000 New York children being taken out of the program and a loss of 3,000 staff members, according to the National Head Start Association.
“I know it takes a lot more than basic reading skill to prepare our children for learning—emotions, personality, social skills are just as important as a child’s reading level when first entering school,” Lowey said.
“Frankly, Head Start is vital because for so many of the kids who don’t have the opportunities that many of our kids have, it is essential if they’re going to start reading and writing and compete, to get those skills early on,” she said, in reference to the comprehensive education that Head Start provides.
Lowey went on to say that Head Start programs are “lifelines” for many families and shouldn’t be on the chopping block.
Ellen Farrar, Deputy Director/Coordinator of Early Childhood Programs for Westchester Community Opportunity Programs in Westchester (WestCOP)—a not for profit social service agency operating programs to combat poverty—pointed out that Head Start is the largest feeding program for low-income children.
Cutting the programs would have a dramatic impact on low-income families in the area, she said, as well as hurting food providers in the local economy, an approximately $1 million loss.
“We’re not overfunded, we’re underfunded,” Farrar said, continuing, “These are the children that will be our future generation.”
Executive director of Head Start Rockland Ouida Foster Dawson said the need in her area is great, with 950 children currently enrolled and 500 more on the wait list.
“Invest now in young children—the return in great,” Dawson said, “For every dollar invested early, you save $7-$9 later.”
Head Start providers were equally concerned about the fate of their programs.
“The part that’s worrisome is that Head Start is a holistic approach,” said Barbara Sommer, senior program director for Family Services of Westchester, a not for profit agency that provides a range of social and mental health services to the community.
Sommer stressed that the Head Start programs are not just educational, but also provide dental care, nutritional advice, and support for parents.
Early Head Start/Head Start is a federally funded program that is designed to increase school readiness for low-income children whose families fall within the federal poverty guidelines. The Early Head Start program is for pregnant women, children aged 0-3 and their families while Head Start is for slightly older children, 3-5 years old, and their families.
The consequences of budget cuts would not just be limited to programs, says Perla Paredes, president of the Parent Policy Council, Head Start.
“In my personal opinion, you’d see more crimes and abuse because there’s too much to handle,” she said, referring to the additional stress families would feel as a result of cuts to vital services.
Head Start also acts as a resource to link up families with community/social service agencies where they can receive assistance.
“There’s no other place to turn to,” said Kim Lisman, Family & Community Partnership Manager at Family Services of Westchester, “enrollment has gone up since the recession—we have over 100 kids on our waiting list.”
Lowey pledged her support to preserving Head Start programs,” I am going to fight cuts to Head Start—we have a responsibility to our families in the Hudson Valley.”