By Amanda Dyslin
---- — MANKATO — Due to the fallout from sequestration, the regional Head Start program administered by Minnesota Valley Action Council will serve 27 fewer kids this year.
Nationwide last year, about 1 million of the nation’s poorest children got a leg up on school through Head Start, the federal program that helps prepare children up to age 5 for school. This fall, about 57,000 children across the country will be denied a place in Head Start and Early Head Start because of federal cuts of more than $400 million from the program's $8 billion budget.
Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association, said sequestration represented the largest hit to Head Start funding in terms of dollars since the program began in 1965. Locally, Chris Marben, child development services director who coordinates Head Start, said this is the largest cut the nine-county program has received in the 17 years she's worked there.
“This is pretty significant for us,” Marben said.
MVAC's Head Start federal funds have been cut by about 5.3 percent, or $152,000 of its $2.9 million of its federal funding. The state funding will remain the same at about $667,000.
This year the program will serve 533 kids, down from 560 in 2012-13.
“I think the fact that we couldn't serve almost 30 more kids was hard,” Marben said. “It's something they really need if they're not getting anything else for pre-school. It's hard that you had to say no.”
Marben said three home-based programs and associated staff had to cut as well, one in Mankato, Blue Earth and Sibley County. She said home programs include a staff member who goes into various families' homes to help parents get their children ready for kindergarten.
She said programs were chosen where participation numbers were low without waiting lists.
Two administrative jobs also were cut from the program's 101 employees, but they were staff who were leaving already and their positions were not rehired, Marben said.
Marben said MVAC still plans to recruit families for the Head Start program year-round because kids come and go and spaces open up. She encourages families who meet the income guidelines for the program to get on the waiting list.
Marben said she analyzed the budget and looked at cuts in areas such as supplies, which make up 8 percent of the total budget.
“But in order for it to be impactful … it really had to unfortunately affect kids and families and the programs,” she said.
Marben said the program certainly accepts donations, however the focus needs to be on long-term, consistent funding.
Nationwide, about 1,600 grantees, which include nonprofits and local government agencies, receive federal Head Start funding.
The Obama administration had previously estimated that slots for up to 70,000 children would be eliminated as a result of the sequester. According to the latest figures, slots for 51,000 preschoolers were eliminated along with child care slots for 6,000 babies. Children will lose 1.3 million days of service at Head Start centers and more than 18,000 employees will be laid off or see their pay reduced.
The cuts come at a time when President Barack Obama and many states such as Minnesota — often with bipartisan support — have declared early childhood learning a priority. Obama is pushing a proposal to provide high-quality preschool to all low- and moderate-income 4-year-olds and many states have increased funding for prekindergarten and other early childhood initiatives.
This article contains information from The Associated Press.