Major Head Start cuts in southern U.P.

Sequestration on the federal level has led to reduction of the Head Start school year by up to 3 1/2 weeks in Menominee, Delta and Schoolcraft counties. The cut affects 254 Head Start children and their families.

The governing board and policy council at the Community Action Agency, which operates the Early Childhood Program, voted to make the cuts earlier this month due to a projected 5 percent cut, or $150,000, in federal funding to the local Head Start program. The cuts will take effect May 1 or 2, depending on a child’s school week.

Sequestration is a program of automatic across-the-board funding cuts adopted by Congress and the President in an attempt to bring leaders back to the negotiating table to pass long-term, specific cuts that would have had less impact on federal programs. When new negotiations didn’t work the automatic cuts took effect.

William Dubord, CAA executive director, said the impact on Head Start is severe because the cuts had to take place in the last two months of the school year instead of being spread out across the entire school year.

“Sequestration is the result of the inability of our leaders in Washington to work together. This is not a targeted approach to reducing spending, but is across the board, making it extremely difficult to make cuts in a fair and compassionate way,” Dubord said.

CAA has other programs that will be less impacted by sequestration because those programs receive some state and local support, including millage, and because the cuts can be spread out throughout more of the programs’ fiscal year, Dubord said.

In order to be fiscally responsible, Dubord said CAA leaders can only assume the cuts will not be reinstated next school year. “So we must plan to continue the funding reduction next school year,” he said.

Kim Johnson, Early Childhood Program director, said in a letter to parents that next school year “we anticipate serving slightly fewer children in both Head Start and Early Head Start due to the federal funding cuts, but will be trying to minimize the reductions as much as possible.”

Dubord said the timing of the cut may leave some families scrambling to cover day care for their children and will mean a longer layoff for approximately 70 staff members.

The Early Childhood Program provides comprehensive services that support the healthy development of young children and their families. The program primarily serves low-income families with children from birth to age 5 and pregnant women.