Head Start Sequestration Cuts Produce Many Hidden Losses

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August 12, 2013; Bloomberg


A few weeks ago, NPQ reported on the installation of the new president of the Ford Foundation, Darren Walker. One of Walker’s educational credentials, which he cites quite often, is that he is a graduate of a small Head Start program in Texas. But the anti-poverty program, which was always intended to act as far more than a simple preschool, is now facing cuts that affect not just the children, but their families and communities.

Head Start has suffered approximately $400 million in cuts this year due to sequestration, and this will result, according to the National Head Start Association, in about 60,000 children being cut from the program across the country. The cut, spread across 1,600 providers in low-income communities, is the deepest experienced by the program in dollar terms since its 1965 creation.

This article reports that the cities of Chicago and Baltimore will use their own budgets to offset losses, and others may do the same. Chicago alone had to save 1,000 slots. But spokespeople in rural areas say it is more difficult to fill in the gaps. At the Southwest Georgia Community Action Council in Moultrie, a $700,000 funding cut means 90 fewer children will be served than last year.

But Steve Bell, the senior director of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit in Washington, warns that immediate losses are not the whole story, “This is not like a government shutdown,” he said. “This is much more insidious because it’s slower, it’s cumulative, and it’s more diffuse.”

In Kentucky, Audubon Area Community Services cut 42 staff positions, thus eliminating slots for more than 170 children, according to Aubrey Nehring, the chief executive officer of the organization, and as a result, some parents have had to quit their own jobs or drop out of school.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Michael Wyland

    What started out as an anti-poverty program designed to improve family function and thereby support children in school and beyond has been hijacked into a government-funded preschool program. With gross Federal costs of $8,000 per year per child, plus local match and all-too-incidental supplemental philanthropy, it’s appropriate to ask whether Head Start does better than an exclusive private preschool program at readying children for school and life.

    I wrote the following article in response to a Wall Street Journal editorial in February, 2013:

    Head Start for All? – Thoughts on a Wall Street Journal Editorial

    I remember working with a school district official in a school district with a Head Start grant. They were using $175,000 in federal money to bus kids to Head Start, while actively discouraging parents from dropping off and picking up their children. The school district could have saved significant federal taxpayer money by hiring individual taxis for each child, but the district had an exclusive contract with a private school bus operator for all school district transportation. [We won’t even discuss the message sent by the school when it discouraged family involvement by driving kids to and from Head Start.]