Head Start graduates in Maryland. (Flickr/CC, 2.0)
Cross-posted from my weekly column on the impact of sequestration at BillMoyers.com.
To get a sense of just how foolish and shortsighted the $85 billion across-the-board sequester cuts are, you don’t have to look any further than Head Start. The federal government’s only pre-K program, Head Start provides comprehensive, high-quality early education and support services to children and their families living in poverty.
“The results speak for themselves,” said Joel Ryan, executive director of the Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP (WSA). “The research shows that kids who go through Head Start are more likely to be ready for kindergarten, less likely to need special education services and more likely to graduate from high school.”
All of that adds up to saving money over the long haul. But even before the sequester Head Start was reaching less than half of eligible children in the United States—and only 38 percent in Washington. Now, even fewer children will benefit from the program.
Estimates put the number of slots lost this year alone at 70,000. According to a recent survey by WSA, 68 percent of Washington State’s Head Start providers will be forced to drop children from their classrooms over the next few months as a direct result of sequestration.
“These cuts are happening now,” said Ryan. “A lot of directors have issued lay-off notices to teaching staff and kids are already getting dropped from programs. That’s going to get worse come September. Most of the impact right now is that they are closing programs earlier in the day, or closing earlier in the school year altogether, so families are needing to scramble to find some other place for child care.”
One place that has sliced a half-hour from its four-hour Head Start program is Snohomish County, where Robert Wheeler’s 4-year-old daughter started attending class last October.
“When she started she could only identify the letters ‘i’ and ‘s’ but she couldn’t spell the word ‘is,’” said Wheeler. “Just over seven months later, she’s reading at the kindergarten-first grade cusp—reading books and sight words to me. Her whole vocabulary has changed.”