Despite Outstanding Track Record of Program, Head Start Officials Bracing for Worst Under Fiscal Year 2008 Budget; Advocates Look Forward to Working With New President, Congress to Address Long-Term $1 Billion Budget Crisis.
WASHINGTON, June 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Faced with an effective $1 billion cut in funding since 2002, cash-strapped Head Start programs across the United States will have no choice but to seek up to 14,000 child enrollment cuts now that Congress and the Bush Administration have let down America's most at-risk children twice in just over six months, according to local Head Start leaders across the nation and officials at the National Head Start Association (NHSA).
In December 2007, scores of costly new requirements were imposed on Head Start programs even as the program was cut by $10.6 million. More recently, Congress and the Bush Administration failed this spring to provide Head Start with needed catch-up funding in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 supplemental appropriations process. Despite the twin setbacks for what is considered to be one of the most successful programs operated by the federal government, NHSA and local Head Start leaders are optimistic that they can work with a new President and Congress to turn around the Head Start funding crisis and get the program back on track.
Head Start -- the nation's premier early childhood program serving more than 1 million children and their low-income families -- is a comprehensive school readiness program that helps to reduce the achievement gap in the classroom. Head Start children experience increased achievement test scores and favorable long-term effects in terms of less grade repetition and special education, and higher school graduation rates, according to one overview analysis of a series of studies. Head Start's parent Policy Councils and family support services empower low-income white, African American, Hispanic and other children and families to gain skills needed to move out of poverty and pursue the American dream.
The potential short-term enrollment cut for Head Start is based on the assumptions contained in the White House's Fiscal Year 2009 budget, which proposed cutting 14,065 slots in the face of flat funding outside of a targeted increase for Head Start employee health care benefits.
National Head Start Association Board Chairman Ron Herndon, who also is director of the Albina Head Start program (Portland, OR), said: "We will be working to get the new President and the new Congress to send clear signals that they are fully committed to Head Start and want it to get as many children ready to learn as possible. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration and some in the current Congress have decided to leave Head Start twisting in the breeze, forcing us to scrimp, cut corners and now eliminate slots for thousands of America's most at-risk youths. As a result, the next President and Congress literally will be faced with the question of whether or not they are prepared to do what it will take to ensure that we have a Head Start program moving forward. We are confident that we can make a compelling case for hitting the 'reset button' on Head Start to get things back where they belong."
Julius Bennett, director, East Side House Settlement Head Start (Bronx, NYC), said: "I have been the director for my program since 1969. One thing that has never changed about the philosophy of Head Start is the importance of giving young children the best start that we can in life. In the 43 years I have been involved with Head Start, I would say the program is at its lowest point ever. Head Start needs to be funded at a level that will allow it to follow all the mandates and requirements, particularly those in the new Reauthorization bill. Head Start has long placed a priority on providing a quality education and well-rounded support structure for young children and their families who are in need. I ask Congress and the President to please allow the program to maintain this quality by providing adequate funding."
Dr. Mary Ellen Caron, commissioner, Chicago Department of Children and Youth Services, said: "We ask federal lawmakers to provide us with the increased Head Start appropriation authorized in the new Act, so we are able to provide our disadvantaged children with the developmental and educational programs and services they so desperately need."
Unfortunately, Head Start programs currently are able to serve less than 40 percent of eligible children, down from about 60 percent at the beginning of the Bush Administration. Early Head Start programs (those serving children under age three) now serve less than 2 percent of eligible children.
Hundreds of Head Start programs across the United States had no choice in 2006 and 2007 but to scale back days and hours of operations, bus service, support staff, and other critical services and manpower. Many Head Start programs have even had to eliminate health insurance coverage for their teachers and staff. With cash-strapped Head Start programs already having slashed operations to the bone (and beyond in some cases), the FY 2008 funding cut means that Head Start programs have experienced a real decline in federal support of 11 percent since FY 2002 (inflation-adjusted). If federal support for Head Start had kept pace with inflation over this period, it would have risen from $6.54 billion in FY 2002 to $7.77 billion in FY 2008.
On March 19, 2008, NHSA reported that underfunded and overburdened Head Start programs across America are in crisis today, with more than three out of four (77 percent) reporting that they are "at or near the breaking point" and unable to absorb the FY 2008 budget cut and the cost of the hundreds of new unfunded mandates imposed in the 2007 Head Start Reauthorization Act.
For more information, see the March 13, 2008 NHSA news release http://www.nhsa.org/press/News_Archived/index_news_031308.htm and the January 24, 2008 NHSA news release at http://www.saveheadstart.org/News/releases2.cfm?releaseID=53 on the Web. A related statement for "the Father of Head Start," Professor Edward Zigler, is available at http://www.saveheadstart.org/News/releases2.cfm?releaseID=54.
WHAT HEAD START NEEDS NOW
NHSA and local Head Start leaders say that Head Start needs a clear
commitment from Washington to fully restored funding, including action by
the next President and Congress as follows:
-- Take steps to restore funding to make up for the recent cuts to Head
Start programs, maintain the Head Start program's quality
(including all the new mandates) and expand enrollment by increasing
Head Start funding by $832 million in Fiscal Year 2009.
-- Further augment Head Start funding annually by $360 million above the
prior year's funding for Fiscal Years 2010 through 2013.
Ample evidence shows that Head Start is a government program that delivers real results for America, which receives nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 dollar invested in Head Start children, according to the preliminary results of a 2004 longitudinal study of more than 600 Head Start graduates in San Bernardino County, California. These projected benefits include increased earnings, employment, and family stability, and decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition, and special education. In addition, Head Start has been shown to benefit participating children and society at large by reducing crime and its costs to crime victims.
The National Head Start Association (http://www.nhsa.org) is a private not-for-profit membership organization dedicated exclusively to meeting the needs of Head Start children and their families. It represents more than 1 million children, 200,000 staff and 2,600 Head Start programs in the United States. The Association provides support for the entire Head Start community by advocating for policies that strengthen services to Head Start children and their families; by providing extensive training and professional development to Head Start staff; and by developing and disseminating research, information, and resources that enrich Head Start program delivery.
CONTACT: Ailis Aaron Wolf, (703) 276-3265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A streaming audio replay of today's telenews event will be available as of 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT on June 19, 2008 at http://www.nhsa.org.
|SOURCE National Head Start Association, Alexandria, VA; East SideHouse|
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