October 1, 2014

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Federal cuts hit local Head Start

The human cost of federal deficit reduction became clearer Tuesday.

At least 53 Lorain County poor children will be ineligible for the early education programs Head Start and Early Head Start in August, according to Jackie Boehnlein, CEO and president of the Lorain County Community Action Agency, which runs the programs. Boehnlein said several teachers are likely to be laid off, although the agency hasn’t determined how many yet.

The cuts are because of across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration that exclude Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. After congressional Republicans seeking deficit reduction threatened to allow the nation to default in 2011, President Obama agreed to $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years if a compromise budget deal couldn’t be reached. On March 1, the first round of cuts, totaling $85 billion took effect.

Ohio’s Head Start was cut about $13.1 million, according to the Ohio Head Start Association. Lorain’s Head Start had $319,472 cut from its $6.85 million budget. The programs serve about 1,027 children countywide. Early Head Start serves children from birth to 3 years old, while Head Start serves 4- and 5-year-olds.

Head Start began in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and has served some 30 million children, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the program.

Roughly 1.11 million children and pregnant women nationally were served by the program in the 2009-10 fiscal year, according to the National Head Start Association. Head Start proponents say it better prepares children to learn, while opponents question its long-term benefits.

The county’s Head Start is based in Lorain where roughly 85 percent of children who attend Lorain Schools live in poverty and about 87 percent enter kindergarten unable to meet minimum state academic standards. Head Start is designed to supplement preschool programs of school districts such as Lorain’s.

The cuts in August will add to the number of poor children in America who don’t receive preschool. Just 28 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in preschool in 2010-11, according to the National Institute for Education for Early Education Research.

While some Republicans have praised the cuts, Head Start supporters denounced them.

“This is just a failure of leadership at the federal level,” said Boehnlein, who urged residents to contact their congressional representatives to urge them to rescind the cuts.

Barbara Hixton, association executive director, said she finds the timing of the cuts ironic given the impending state academic takeover of Lorain Schools and Obama’s State of the Union address last month in which he recommended making “high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.”

Hixton said she understands the need to reduce the deficit, but the budget shouldn’t be balanced on the backs of the poor. She said Head Start children are among the most nation’s most vulnerable and Head Start teachers, who aren’t required to have the same teaching certification as K-12 teachers, don’t earn much money.

“Cutting 50 children in from the Lorain County program probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to many people,” she said. “But to those 50 children and their families, it’s devastating.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.