By Melanie O’Neill, Pinal Gila Community Child Services Inc.
Simply put, the sequester would be extremely painful for our nation’s most vulnerable children. Children, especially children in poverty, need stable learning environments like Head Start, where they can develop, be healthy, and get ready for school and life. They need stable home environments, and Head Start works with families to support their stability. Those stable, trusting environments will be damaged if children have to be cut from Head Start/Early Head Start programs.
We expect guidance from the Administration about how the cuts will be implemented, but according to the latest data released by the White House, the sequester would cut over $406 million from Head Start and Early Head Start. That means within the year about 70,000 children and families nationwide would lose their Head Start and Early Head Start experience and about 14,000 staff would lose their job. Approximately 1000 children in Arizona would lose their Head Start/Early Head Start services.
We serve 1053 children within 18 communities throughout Pinal and Gila counties. With what we know today, approximately 50 children and their families would lose their Head Start/Early Head Start experience and potentially five staff would be let go.
More than just the immediate impact, the ripple-effect of the sequestration would be felt across the entire economy and into the future. For example, Head Start is a locally based program that is the backbone of communities across the nation.
With an estimated 5.3 % cut to Head Start/Early Head Start programs, children with special needs could lose access to services – which will cost us all in years to come. A recent Montgomery County Schools (MD) study found that Head Start reduced special education costs by $10,100 per student per year in the K-12 system. Parents would be forced to choose between cutting hours, quitting their jobs or leaving their children in low-quality care.
Head Start and other supports for children and families are not just dollars and cents – we get results and offer a window of opportunity to our nation’s most vulnerable children and families. Congress and the President need to find a way to avoid these irresponsible cuts that will hurt our staff, our programs, our communities, and, most devastating, the future of our children.