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Daily Newscasts

Survey: Head Start At “Breaking Point”

March 25, 2008

Renton, WA – Head Start programs in Washington and around the country are at a breaking point, according to a new survey from the National Head Start Association. The program works with pre-school kids and families in at-risk situations to help make sure children are ready for school.

The survey finds that local programs are stretched between funding shortfalls and new federal mandates. The results show that 77 percent of programs surveyed said they were "at or near the breaking point," and many are cutting staff and services. Cheri Stefani is the director of Head Start in the Puget Sound area; she says state programs are feeling the crunch.

"Specifically, for our program we've had to cut staff hours, both the family support staff and the teaching staff, in order to balance our budget every year, and so every year we're chipping away at staff positions."

Stefani says there are areas in the state with long waiting lists for kids and families wanting to join the Head Start program, but with flat funding, there's no way to bring them on board.

"When there's no money to expand services or serve more children, then of course you have children who are entering the school system at sometimes quite a deficit."

A recent federal Head Start law requires higher levels of education for Head Start teachers and assistants. Stefani says better training for Head Start teachers is a good thing, but with no new funding to train and hire those teachers, the requirement will drive out many current Head Start workers.

Chris Thomas/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - WA