Head Start, the federally-funded program that provides pre-school and other critical services to underprivileged children and their families, is facing unprecedented budget cuts this year.

Currently, the program serves nearly a million children and their families every year, by providing an extensive pre-kindergarten curriculum, two meals a day and parent and community involvement. As a result of the sequestration cuts that took place  last spring, more than 57,000 pre-schoolers and more than 6,000 babies nationwide will be denied a place in Head Start. The cuts totaled about $400 million from the programs eight billion dollar budget, according to an article in USA Today.

Southwestern Community Services, a non-profit community action program, which is 100 percent federally funded, runs the Head Start program  in Keene along with six others in southwestern New Hampshire.  Ella Weber is the Family Services Community Partnership Manager, and Kim Paquette is the Education and Disability Services Manager at the Southwestern Community Services (SCS). The program in Keene lost 47 students over the summer. “Last year we had 237 students. This year we have 190,” said Weber.

Erin D’Aleo/ Equinox Staff

She attributed the reduction in students directly to the budget cuts from earlier this year. She did note that they didn’t have to actually lay off any staff, but hours were cut. One classroom was closed in Keene and one Newport.

“There’s really a big push for kindergarten readiness,”  Paquette said. “It’s really unfortunate that our total budget was cut by about eight percent,” Paquette continued.

In addition, “returning students,” were retained, according to Weber, and the reduction was due to not taking in new students. She said the cuts have had very negative consequences not only for children, because “We enroll the whole family. Family engagement leads to success.”

According to the National Head Start Foundation, for every dollar invested in Head Start, there is a return on investment ranging from seven to nine dollars. This is because the program decreases the need for services in schools like special education, and Head Start children are 12 percent less likely to be charged with a crime, and are more likely to have long-term employment.

In addition, children who attend Head Start are more likely to graduate high school and attend college, while they are less likely to repeat a grade, stated the study.

Professor Dottie Bauer and Early Childhood Education expert at KSC spoke about the relationship the college has with the Head Start program.  “Students [from KSC] go four mornings a week and volunteer— It’s a win-win,” she said.

“Students volunteer at two schools in Keene, in addition to the Head Start program as well, all of which “are nationally recognized.” Bauer said that there has been “some longitudinal research since the 70s,” with “many indicators, such as high school graduation, staying out of jail, employment,” that would indicate that Head Start is successful.   She went on, “[in America] we’re all about the individual,” and said “ [we’re] not as socially responsible as we should be.”

Bauer said that the government “has never given enough money for all those who qualify to begin with. If we don’t deal with investments in education… People can end up in prison,” Bauer concluded.  Weber echoed these sentiments, pointing out that there is a higher success rate, saying,  “It really does give them [students] a head start.”


Robert Koolis can be contacted at rkoolis@keene-equinox.com

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