Sequestration Knocks Nearly 60,000 Kids Out Of Head Start

New data from the federal government show that sequestration has eliminated more than 50,000 places for children in Head Start programs this fall. Some centers preserved slots for children by cutting back hours or shortening the school year and some states stepped in to fill the funding gap.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. We begin this hour in the classroom. In a moment, a new tax break in Alabama to help get kids out of failing schools and the parents who oppose it. But first, a word we haven't heard much of lately, sequestration. The federal government is reporting big cuts today for Head Start. The preschool program for low-income three and four-year-olds serves close to a million kids.

But as NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports, this fall, many will be left out.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Fifty-seven thousand two hundred and sixty-five, to be exact. That's how many children in some of the nation's poorest communities will have to go without medical and dental screenings, preschool and daycare.

YVETTE SANCHEZ FUENTES: This is pretty bad.

SANCHEZ: Yvette Sanchez Fuentes runs the Head Start program administered by HHS, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SANCHEZ FUENTES: Programs also had to cut their programs by days, so they closed early or they're going to start late this new school year. And we know that at least 18,000 staff across the country were affected either through job losses or pay cuts.

SANCHEZ: According to HHS, programs have shortened the school day by a total of 1.3 million days. Sanchez Fuentes says that's going to make it much, much harder for working parents to hang on to their jobs if they can't find a safe place to leave their children. The Obama administration actually warned that the problem was going be worse, predicting at one point that both the Head Start and Early Head Start programs would have to shed 70,000 children from their rolls.

The fact that it's less, though, is no consolation, says Sally Aman, with the National Head Start Association.

SALLY AMAN: For anyone to assume that nearly 60,000 kids being unable to attend Head Start is not a large number is just ridiculous. Sixty thousand is astronomical.

SANCHEZ: Which is not to say that programs haven't tried to minimize the impact, says Aman.

AMAN: Folks out in the states who are administering these programs - the teachers, the administrators, they have done everything possible to make cutting children from programs the last resort. So, what these programs have done is shorten school years, cut transportation services, which is devastating in and of itself, because that's the only means some of these kids have to even get to the program.

SANCHEZ: Texas and California have been the hardest hit, cutting more than 10,000 kids from the program combined. Aman says Head Start's funding crisis could get actually worse unless Congress and the administration do something.

AMAN: I am hopeful that while lawmakers are at home and hearing from the folks that they were elected to serve, that they would do everything in their power to find a financial solution to this travesty.

SANCHEZ: Because sequestration cuts are supposed to remain in effect until 2021, as currently required by the Budget Control Act, the impact could be really long term. Over 700 school boards, many of which manage Head Start programs, have adopted resolutions to amend the Budget Control Act and restore funding. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

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