As congressional foes duke it out in Washington DC on budget cuts and tax increases, some of the most vulnerable children in southeastern Utah are on the brink of losing a valuable resource in their struggle to climb out of poverty.
Federally funded programs will be seeing automatic budget cuts, or a process called sequestration,В if congress does not take action in the next few days.
Lynette Mitchell, Rural Utah Child Development Head Start Director, is waiting for official word regarding the direction things are going to go if the automatic cuts that are required by the sequestration take effect. While this is still an issue in flux, Mitchell has been told that they are looking at a 5.1 percent cut to its 2013 budget.
Though the number does not sound insurmountable, when it comes down to actual dollars for the program, it amounts to $200,000 that must be trimmed.
вЂњThis is much more than just deciding to travel less or buy fewer office supplies,вЂќ stated Mitchell. вЂњBut, we are going to do everything possible to make the adjustments without cutting children from the program.вЂќ
One of the strategies that could be implemented is to start classes later in the year and finish earlier in the year. Whether or not that will save enough to continue serving all the children remains to be seen.
RUCD Head Start serves 434 children in eight counties including classrooms in Price and Wellington. They also reach into Emery, Uintah, Grand, Wayne, Piute, Sevier and San Juan counties. They have a contract with Duchesne County, but the Ute Tribe currently takes care of those children. An additional 60 children are served by Early Head Start, a program that goes into homes and works with parents and children.
Head Start is an education program serving low-income children in preparation for kindergarten. It also engages the entire family in the learning process, and assists parents to be better prepared in helping their children as they progress through the school system. The program also provides two meals each school day to all attending children.
In addition to the shortened school year, staff and administration hours would be trimmed to meet the budget cuts.
There are debates concerning the long term effectiveness of Head Start on children, though. Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute argues that the money spent on Head Start isВ wastefulВ due to studies that show gains made early on by the children fade by first grade.
In 2011, W. Steven Barnett of the National Institute of Early Childhood Education Research said those studies are flawed and gains made last long into the educational process. He feels more funding is needed to allow teachers to obtain four-year degrees to improve their teaching skills.
On March 15 Head Start and Early Head Start parents across the United States will park their strollers in Congressional district offices to make this point: the sequester will cut children and families off from important services, and that Congress needs to take action to protect these children.