Fewer children will be enrolled in Head Starts this fall as a result of the federal budget sequester, and area program leaders and parents worry the scale-backs are hitting some of the most vulnerable families hardest.
“Financially struggling families that can’t afford to send their children to childcare centers or preschool centers, it puts them at a disadvantage when they go to kindergarten,” says Tameka Deshields, site director at the Maternity Care Coalition’s South Philadelphia early head start program. “If they’re not able to get into a head start program and they’re at home, then they’re not able to do that pre-work that they need to prepare their children for ‘school school.'”
Head Start is a comprehensive childhood education program that also includes health, nutrition and parental services. The majority of families enrolled in Head Start are below the federal poverty level. The federal government directly funds Head Start, so the programs took a direct hit this spring from the government’s mandatory five percent budget cuts. Across the country, some Head Starts have placed empty chairs outside their buildings, to highlight what the reductions mean.
Deshields says her site recently cut eight slots and let some staff go. When Head Start resumes next week at Acelero Learning in Philadelphia, 76 fewer spaces will be available. The latest report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projects about 2,812 fewer slots will be available for kids in Pennsylvania this year, along with 1,144 fewer slots in New Jersey, and about 130 fewer in Delaware.
31-year-old Marcus Tuggles, whose daughter is in Early Head Start at the Maternity Care Coalition’s South Philadelphia site, sees the reductions and what that means for other families as tragic.
He says he couldn’t afford the services for his two-year-old, Kailani, otherwise. It has helped him get out to job training and find employment, but most importantly to him, has had a positive impact on his daughter’s growth.
“It’s helped with her social development, her learning her abc’s and for her independence,” says Tuggles.