Federal sequestration forcing cuts to Head Start

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MONROE COUNTY – Families across Indiana and the country will soon face tough decisions regarding early childhood education and childcare, as the federal sequester forces a five-percent cut to Head Start programs.

Monroe County just announced sweeping cuts to its Head Start program this week, and it’s just a matter of time before others will be forced to do the same.

Jessica Grogan got the news when she picked up her son from Head Start on Wednesday. She was told her son’s class would be ending a month early and that he likely won’t make it into a summer program.

“He’s just now really getting to the point where he’s doing better on everything and I feel like these last few months would have just been good for him right before kindergarten,” Grogan said.

The sequester is forcing Monroe County Head Start to cut five percent of its yearly budget in just over half a year’s time. They began by closing a Head Start classroom at Lakeview Elementary in southern Monroe County, but that’s just the beginning.

The South Central Indiana Action Program board and Head Start policy council voted to cut 12 slots for Head Start students, 25 slots for home-based Early Head Start, 72 slots for summer programs and 15 Head Start employees.

In order to keep the most spots open for children, not all of the cuts will be reflected in the classroom. Monroe County will also cut all bus transportation for the summer and all of the next school year.

“We don’t have a lot of other places to cut because the majority of our stuff is staffing and locations and rent,” said Head Start Director Blakely Clements. “So you can’t really go much further than where we are.”

Monroe County is among the first to address the five percent sequester hit, but it’s far from the last. All counties face similar decisions. According to the White House, Indiana stands to lose 1,000 slots for Head Start in the coming months.

“We look at not just our children losing slots and them losing school time, we also have families that will be losing income and other things along that line,” Clements said. “So it’s a broader spectrum than most people expect.”

“I’m just a little lost I guess,” Grogan said.

Jessica also has a 2-year-old daughter in Early Head Start, and if she doesn’t get in again next year, she says she’ll be forced to switch shifts or possibly lose her job.

“There’s hundreds of parents that are being affected by this and everybody is being affected in a different way,” Grogan said. “It’s just devastating.”

Since budget decisions for Head Start programs depend on the timing of each federal grant, more Central Indiana counties will be announcing cuts in the coming weeks.

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