John Monfredo: Head Start Cuts Hurt Worcester’s Most Vulnerable Kids
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Since 1965 Head Start has served millions of children and families by promoting school readiness, by providing comprehensive services, and by emphasizing the role of parents as their child's first and most important teacher. In addition to preschool instruction, Head Start also supplies meals, transportation and basic medical care, all services that have been reduced or cut completely. The meals that Head Start provides might be, in many cases, the only meal some children get that day.
Research continues to talk how to narrow the achievement gap in education and the importance of readiness skills before a child enters kindergarten. Thus, for many of our “at risk” children in Head Start this will not be the case. Our most vulnerable students in this nation don’t deserve to have a budget balanced on their backs due to the ineptness of certain members in Congress. Currently, President Obama has been pushing his plan to provide preschool for all children. However, this will not affect children this year nor address the other services Head Start provides for the 5.1 million children under the age of five living in poverty. Our most vulnerable students in this nation don’t deserve to have these valuable programs cut.
Head Start in Worcester
In Worcester, close to 150 children have been dropped from the Head Start program due to the cuts in the program. So instead of expanding this need in the community, many children will be deprived of service because the enrollment has been curtailed due to budget constraints and because of Congress’s inability to resolve their differences.
According to Laurie Kuczka, Director of Head Start and Early Childhood Facilitator, due to sequestration the Worcester Head Start was forced to cut $308,000. Due to these budgetary cuts, fifteen (15) staff members were laid off. Administrative positions, as well as classroom and center based positions were cut. In addition to cuts in staffing, 136 student slots were cut which led to the closing of the Vernon Hill Head Start Program. This program housed eight classrooms. Four of the eight classrooms were restructured within our four other sites, which allowed the program to maintain as many student slots as possible without going over our teacher to student ratios. All closings and positions cut were due to the sequestration.
Currently in Worcester, approximately 190 of the families receive extended day services. Down from 250 students last year. Worcester Head Start has an outstanding program and its mission is to provide a community based-program whose focus is to enhance self-esteem, personal growth, and school readiness skills of children, while providing families with opportunities, training and resources that will help them reach their fullest potential.
Why We Need Head Start
The Head Start Program is uniquely different from other early education programs. The program looks for a balance between wellness and academics. Head Start offers high-quality evidence based classroom curricula that focus on school readiness skills for young children. The program provides comprehensive services for families in each building and in the family home. A full time social worker, nurse, dental hygienist, nutritionist, special education staff /mental health services/supports and family engagement/outreach worker work with not only the child but with the entire family. The program operates half day and full day options and offers a small summer program. Everything about the program is preventative so why would health be any different! All families have access to a quality medical and dental intervention and nutrition services. This includes physical, cognitive, social and emotional development, all of which are essential to children getting ready for school.
Thus, Sequestration—the across-the-board budget cuts that represent the biggest slash in federal education spending in recent history—may continue for the foreseeable future if Congress cannot compromise in budget spending.
The cuts in education will certainly have an effect in the long run. Mitchell D. Chester, the commissioner of education in Massachusetts stated “it’s death by a thousand cuts. … The real concern that I have is that we’ll wake up in a decade and say, ‘What have we done to our school districts, particularly the school districts that serve the most vulnerable populations?’ Can Head Start be saved? Stay tuned!
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