Pam Bernstein can already see the domino effect that the “sequester” is having on low-income children.
The federal cuts that kicked in March 1 required her to cut 5.27 percent of her budget as Head Start director for Lakes & Prairies Community Action Partnership in Moorhead, Minn., which serves Clay and Wilkin Counties.
The most immediate cuts amounted to $89,000. After consulting with a governing council that includes parents, she ended Head Start classes May 9, three weeks early. That meant 258 children lost out on preschool, meals, and other supports, and parents scrambled for alternative child care.
To absorb another cut of nearly $88,000 for the coming school year, she eliminated one program altogether – the only Head Start classroom in rural Breckenridge, Minn., which served 17 children and had a waiting list.
That closure is “very hard on the community,” Ms. Bernstein says. “The social services director in the county is very concerned because he anticipates that child out-of-home placements will increase and social services caseloads will increase.” And many of the kindergarten classrooms will see children who aren’t as ready to start school.
Eliminating the classroom also meant letting go of a lead teacher, an assistant teacher, and a clerical support person.
Since the Head Start programs wrapped up early, Bernstein has heard from parents who say, “We’re having to access the food pantries more often, because kids are home and they’re hungry.” She adds, “They’re seeing some behavior problems; some mental-health issues are starting to arise.”
Such scenarios will repeat across the United States, with the federal Office of Head Start estimating that the first year of the sequester could eliminate services for 70,000 children.
President Obama’s proposal to better support early-childhood development gave her hope, Bernstein says, but with across-the-board cuts “it’s very hard to stay positive.”
– Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, staff writer