Federal budget cuts mean reductions in local Head Start programs
BY CHRISTIN NANCE LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org September 20, 2013 11:04PM
Geminus Heaad Start Vice President Karen Carradine (left) and parent Stephanie Dollinar helped come up with ways to cut their budget without cutting Head Start slots. | Christin Nance Lazerus~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 22, 2013 6:02AM
CEDAR LAKE — Head Start teacher Jerie Decker regales a group of children with the tale of Humpty Dumpty as teacher Sheretta McGee sets nearby tables with peaches, English muffins and pitchers of milk.
The children, ranging in age from 3 to 5, all benefit from the program, and that’s no surprise. Research shows Head Start classes like those at Holy Name School in Cedar Lake teach children in poverty vital skills and better prepare them for kindergarten.
But these children and others across the nation may be losing that help, thanks to federal budget cuts.
Head Start programs have been forced to make changes this year, due to federal sequestration cuts. Many Head Start programs have eliminated slots for eligible children, including 700 in Indiana and around 56,000 nationwide.
Northwest Indiana’s Geminus Head Start was able to avoid cutting scholarships for the 2013-2014 school year, but sequestration is set to last 10 years, so further cuts are possible.
Geminus Head Start vice president Karen Carradine said the 5.7-percent reduction equaled about $625,000 that had to be culled from the group’s Head Start and Early Head Start budget.
“It was hard work, but we had to find innovative ways of trimming the budget that did not impact the number of children we serve,” Carradine said.
Geminus serves 40 percent of the qualifying population in Lake and Porter counties. It saved the money by reducing the number of sites where it offers programs in Chesterton and Hebron but increasing home visits, and offering half-day programs exclusively.
The number of classroom teachers has been reduced from 39 to 26, but Geminus has increased its number of home visit teachers from 12 to 20.
“We had a small reduction in staff, but much of that was absorbed by the level of turnover we’ve seen,” Carradine said. She said some staff have left the profession due to changes in the Indiana unemployment system, which no longer allows employees on summer break to be eligible for unemployment.
Carradine said the shift to only half-day programs has an impact on parents who work and need child care, so Geminus has partnered with Holy Name’s existing childcare program and other providers to be able to offer parents options.
Hebron resident Stephanie Dollinar’s three children have received services from Head Start, and she can’t imagine losing access to the program. When her son Phillip was younger, a speech therapist would come by their home to work with him.
“I would have to take them to a preschool three times a week at $130 a month,” Dollinar said. “I hate to say it, but I probably would keep them home, which would be really hard for my son.
Dollinar appreciates the personal attention her kids have received in Head Start. She currently serves as the chair of Geminus Head Start’s policy committee. When the budget cuts cropped up, she and other parents looked for the most viable options for all of the children served by Head Start.
“The parents didn’t say ‘me, me, me.’ They looked at the role of the program and understood that it’s not just for my child and tried to find out how we can support families in need,” Carradine said.
Carradine said each Head Start program grant is unique, so some were forced to cut slots.
“Some programs didn’t have an option,” Carradine said. “It’s not a fixed formula, so each program has come through this differently.”
Congressional inaction has stymied any meaningful changes to a process that has negatively impacted education, housing, scientific research and other areas, but Carradine hopes a bipartisan solution can be found.
“I pray that Washington, D.C. gets to a place where we can see bipartisan leadership back in position so we don’t see further cuts on the backs of children,” she said.