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Cutbacks the "New Normal" for AR Head Start

PHOTO: It's estimated that the federal sequester means 70,000 fewer children will be enrolled in Head Start programs. Courtesy U.S. Dept. of Education.

PHOTO: It's estimated that the federal sequester means 70,000 fewer children will be enrolled in Head Start programs. Courtesy U.S. Dept. of Education.


May 6, 2013

RISON, Ark. - Arkansas Head Start programs say they're trying to serve as many children as possible in the face of federal budget cutbacks. It's a mandatory 5 percent reduction for Head Start, which serves lower-income children from birth to age five.

Arkansas Head Start directors meet every other month to compare notes and support each others' efforts to trim costs without trimming quality of services.

Around the state, according to state coordinator Jackie Dedman, some programs are making pay cuts, eliminating transportation, and not replacing staff members who leave.

"Some are closing their centers, some are reducing enrollment slots, some have staff furloughs and staff reductions," said Dedman. "They're making only necessary or emergency purchases. Some are reducing the days for their program."

Dedman explained different Head Start programs' federal grants are renewed in different months, so the budget cuts will be felt throughout the summer and fall. Program directors are being urged to apply for other types of funding to help with the shortfall, she added.

Most of the Arkansas Head Start programs already had children on waiting lists. Some of those lists are in the hundreds, but even smaller communities such as Rison have 20 on their waiting list, for a program that serves just over 100 children.

As director of the Cleveland County Head Start program in Rison, Pam Draper predicts the waiting list will grow. She said a point system is used to determine which children can enroll.

"We assign different points for different scenarios, such as income, age, the number in a household, if a parent is in school," explained Draper. "There's a list of criteria."

Draper confirmed that the uncertainty makes it difficult for parents and children, as well as staff members.

Nationwide, it's estimated that 70,000 fewer children will be in Head Start programs as a result of sequestration's mandatory budget cuts.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - AR