Taking 5 percent away from something leaves you with less, something some preschoolers will learn the hard way when basic Washington, D.C., math impacts them.
Sequestration, the mandated, across-the-board federal budget cuts that went into effect Friday, will result in the loss of 5.1 percent from Head Start funding for programs nationwide. The cuts, would strip Head Start in Pennsylvania by $13.2 million, forcing 2,300 children from the program and costing 609 jobs, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
How many of those jobs and students will be lost in Luzerne and Wyoming counties is unclear, but what is certain is cuts will occur here.
Each individual local Head Start program must decide how to incorporate the funding cuts. Luzerne County Head Start Executive Director Lynn Evans Biga said Tuesday eliminating staff and students is unavoidable.
“It’s disappointing that young children are going to bear the brunt of this,” Biga said.
The Pennsylvania Head Start Association said there are 723 federally funded children in Head Start in Luzerne and Wyoming counties. There are an additional 202 children in early Head Start in the two counties who are paid for by federal funds.
Biga said she can’t imagine the program that serves Luzerne and Wyoming counties will be any different from those elsewhere in the state.
Biga said she, her board and the parent’s council will spend the next few weeks laying out a course of action, and it’s likely the plan will be implemented at month’s end or early next month.
“We can only do what we have money to do,” Biga said.
While the numbers tell a story, Blair Hyatt, executive director of the Pennsylvania Head Start Association, said it’s sad children and staff members are relegated to pawns in the government’s game.
“Trying to address the budget deficit by cutting Head Start funding is wrong. It’s wrong for children, it’s wrong the our state economy, and it’s wrong for the federal budget. Children should not be caught up in the so-called budget sequester. They are not the problem, they are our future,” said Hyatt.
Karen Grimm-Thomas, the assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania Head Start, said Head Start program directors across the state have been told to start planning for how they’ll handle the cuts. No program, to her knowledge, has taken any action as of Tuesday and she does not believe any cuts to staff or students will occur this or next week.
But they’re undoubtedly coming.
The cuts could come by reducing hours, but that’s not likely to be enough and staff size will be reduced, Grimm-Thomas said. With fewer teachers will also come fewer students.
“They go hand in hand,” Grimm-Thomas said.
“In order to maintain the high quality, we’ll have to cut some children,” she said, but eliminating the early Head Start program is not on the table. “The earlier you begin (educating), the better the outcome,” Biga said.