Starting Friday, local Head Start and Early Head Start programs that offer prenatal through preschool services to low-income families could be forced to consider cutting clients because of a nearly $400 million nationwide funding loss that may result from automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration.
"Without Head Start, when the children enroll in kindergarten their academic success may be hindered. Their future is not as bright without these basic building blocks," said Jamie Baxter, director of legislative policy and advocacy at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.
Head Start offers preschool programs for children ages 3-5, and Early Head Start provides programs for pregnant moms and children up to age 3.
The AIU, which operates Head Start and Early Head Start programs that serve 1,339 children, faces a $500,000 funding cut. That means about 75 children could lose services. At the Pittsburgh Public Schools, about 100 children would have to be cut from its program based on funding cuts, superintendent Linda Lane said.
"It would be a big loss, and if the cuts happen right away I'd have to look to see where we are on funding and try to keep the kids in the program for the rest of the year. I would do anything I can to keep them in the program for the rest of the year," Ms. Lane said.
Two other smaller Head Start and Early Head Start programs operated by the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center and the University of Pittsburgh's Office of Child Development also would be affected by the federal funding cut.
The Head Start cuts are part of the automatic $85 billion across-the-board federal spending cuts that are the result of Congress' failure in 2011 to enact a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction as required by the Budget Control Act. The American Taxpayer Relief Act, approved in January, delayed the start of cuts until Friday. If no action is taken by Congress by midnight tonight, the cuts go into effect.
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, about 2,300 children in Pennsylvania stand to lose Head Start and Early Head Start services because of the cuts. Nationally, some 70,000 children are expected to have Head Start and Early Head Start services cut.
"These are our neediest kids. I know that we've got budget issues on the national level. There has to be a better place to cut than this. These are kids that everyone knows will be better prepared for kindergarten and better prepared in the long run with this program," Ms. Lane said.
In addition to students losing their academic preparedness for kindergarten, families in the Head Start programs could also lose a major source of child care, said Chris Rodgick, the AIU's program director for Head Start and Pre-K Counts. She said a number of parents work while their children are attending the six-hour-a-day, four-day-a-week Head Start programs.
Ms. Baxter said it's her understanding that cuts to Head Start, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, take effect immediately. Ms. Lane said she and her staff were uncertain exactly when the cuts would take place.
In addition to the early education funding cuts, Pennsylvania faces significant federal funding cuts to K-12 education for the 2013-14 school year.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Pennsylvania stands to lose $26.4 million. The cuts will affect such programs as Title I aid to high-poverty schools, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, Career and Technical Education, School Improvement, and Race to the Top grants.
Officials at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit estimate the federal funding loss total at about $4.6 million for schools in Allegheny County, with schools that receive the highest amounts of federal funds most heavily affected. Those districts include McKeesport, Woodland Hills, Penn Hills, North Allegheny and Wilkinsburg, according to the AIU. Pittsburgh Public Schools estimates it will lose $4.3 million.
"Again, these are the neediest kids -- kids receiving special education services, kids whose families are living in poverty. That's what most federal programs support," Ms. Lane said.
Mary Niederberger: email@example.com; 412-263-1590.