Federal cuts won't hurt Head Start right away

Mar 6, 2013

The White House has said as many as 1,000 Indiana children will lose access to early education services because of automatic federal spending cuts. But Head Start won’t start cutting slots right away, and program directors have been told to look for money elsewhere.

It’s not as bad as it could have been — late last year Head Start programs across the state braced for an across-the-board 10% spending cut before a last-minute budget deal kicked the deadline to March 1. Now the number Indiana Head Start Association Executive Director Cheryl Miller is seeing is closer to 5.5%.

Even though cuts are coming, Miller says there aren’t fewer students are in Head Start classrooms today than last week.

“It’s one thing to talk about losing slots, but we know a lot of programs are going to try to avoid that. They’re going to try to avoid lowering their enrollment,” Miller said.

Here’s why: when local Head Start programs write grants to the federal government for funding, they commit to serving a certain number of students. They can’t cut kids mid-cycle.

Fayette County’s Head Start grant is written for 162 students. Until the program gets more information about the coming cuts, the plan is continue business-as-usual.

But program assistant Debbie Barrett says they’re already discussing contingency plans.

“We have one full-day class. It might be if we just took it to a half-day class, it might be enough,” Barrett said.

Only kids whose parents are working or going to school are eligible for the full-day program. Eliminating it would mean some families no longer have childcare.