KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As school resumes, Head Start officials in Missouri and Kansas say hundreds of low-income children have lost access to the program because of federal spending cuts.
The Mid-America Regional Council is the Head Start grant administrator for the Missouri counties of Clay, Platte and Jackson. MARC officials said they are starting the year with about 8 percent fewer slots for children, leaving a total of 2,375 that are filled.
And according to officials the Kansas Head Start Association, the Sunflower State is down 440 spaces from last year, leaving a total of 8,720 statewide. Wyandotte County, which includes Kansas City, Kan., accounted for nearly 17 percent of the state’s lost slots, according to the association officials.
The Missouri Head Start Association did not have similar statewide totals.
“Anything that detracts from our ability to serve children and families is, for me, a big loss,” said Jim Caccamo, director of Early Learning and Head Start for MARC.
He said the Kansas City-area program, in general, only has enough funding to serve about one-fifth of Head Start-eligible families.
Established in 1965, Head Start serves low-income children from birth up to 5 years of age. The program enrolls more than 1 million children each year nationwide, according to the federal Office of Head Start.
According to the National Head Start Association, researchers have found that Head Start families are more likely to invest time in literacy activities with their children even after they enter school.
Research has also shown that for each $1 invested, Head Start yields an annual return on investment of 7 percent to 9 percent.
The federal budget cuts affecting Head Start are part of the so-called budget sequestration that began March 1. Implemented after Congress and the White House failed to agree on a deficit-reduction plan, the sequestration cut about $85 billion from this year’s budget.
The National Head Start Association estimates that the sequestration is cutting the program’s budget by about 5.3 percent, or about $450 million nationwide.
Area Head Start officials also said they are worried that sequestration could continue beyond this year, requiring perhaps even deeper cuts.
“It is really hard for the staff to have to make these decisions,” said Erick Vaughn, who recently took over as executive director of the Kansas Head Start Association.
He said program managers were stuck between wanting to provide services to as many families as possible and the need to run quality programming.
In some cases, Vaughn said, local programs absorbed this year’s cuts without reducing the number of children they serve. Further spending cuts could force some centers to close entirely, he said.
“We are at the point now where people are operating on a shoestring budget given what is required of them,” he said.
Missouri programs operating through the MARC grant took different approaches to the funding cuts.
In the Lee’s Summit School District, which lost a Head Start classroom operated through an agreement with the Independence School District, officials said they avoided displacing as many children as possible this year by adding an additional early childhood education class with federal dollars geared toward at-risk students.
The YMCA of Greater Kansas City, which has sites throughout the three Missouri counties, closed a program in Raytown.
The YMCA also delayed start of some programs for a month and eliminated one of the four classrooms at the Northland Head Start Center on Northeast 83rd Street at Missouri 152.
The Northland move eliminated 30 slots, said Bev Sasek, center supervisor.
Kids that miss out on Head Start lose more than just early childhood education, Sasek said. They also don’t get the health screenings and meals that come along with Head Start.
Melissa Monteleone has had two daughters in the Northland Head Start program.
She said Head Start helped her older daughter, now a first-grader, overcome her shyness and helped rein in her rambunctious younger daughter.
“I really do believe Head Start works wonders,” she said.