HEAD START, from page 14
(school-age children can qualify for before and after school care), it is federal money from Head Start that helps fund parental involvement, family support and other services. Head Start funding is now part of a partisan budget tug of war. The federal government has yet to approve a 2011 budget, instead it is operating through Continuing Resolutions that allows bills and salaries to be paid and government agency budgets to be funded for the short-term.
The nearly half-century-old Head Start program is among the $60 bil- lion in cuts that the Republicans in the U.S. Congress are looking to implement. President Barack Obama had asked for $8.2 billion in funding to Head Start in the budget he proposed to Congress. That was a $1 billion boost to the program over the 2010 budget.
But Republicans countered with
an offer of $6.1 billion for fiscal year 2011 - which runs through September 30. That funding would slice $1 billion from last year's budget for Head Start, for an impact of $2 billion less than the president's
The Obama Administration says that the president's proposed appro- priations means keeping all of the 968,000 children currently benefit- ting from Head Start on the rolls. The GOP plan, it says, would mean that 200,000 children nationwide could be dropped. “We think investing in Head Start and early education are critical com- ponents to helping every child reach their full potential,” Jesse Moore, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told the Defender. “To compete in the 21st century we have to use the tal- ent of all our children.”
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that the nation's children, including an estimated 5,000 to 12,000 in Illinois, can't afford the kinds of cuts to early education the GOP proposed. “We've proven that Head Start works. It gives kids a good begin- ning in their education and prepares them for school. So as you cut this program, it means that, unfortunate- ly, many children will struggle when they go to school,” said Durbin, who recently visited a child care program at Henry Booth House on the South
Side, similar to the one the Harris family participates in.
Imani Harris is preparing to start
kindergarten in the fall. Her mother said that thanks to assistance from the child care center, the youngster applied and tested for some of the city's top public schools and Zelita Harris feels the program prepared her daughter to be successful on the tests, and throughout her school days. To lose her slot in the pro- gram, the mother said, would set Imani back in many ways. Data supports Imani and other children who attend Head Start and other quality child care programs being better off, in the long run. The 2005 HighScope Perry
Preschool Study Through Age 40 followed a select group of then-at- risk African American preschoolers from age 3 and 4 to age 40 and found that over the years, they grad- uated high school, earned more money and had fewer brushes with the law than their peers who did not attend programs.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., did not
return Defender phone calls and e- mails seeking comment on the GOP-proposed Head Start cuts. But the last Republican president
favored more investment in the early education experience versus cuts.
“We need to prepare our children to read and succeed in school with improved Head Start and early childhood development programs,” George W. Bush said in his 2002 State of the Union address. If agencies like Children Home + Aid were to lose their federal dol- lars, parents like Zelita would have to look elsewhere for the services and she said her household would be devastated.
“(Mitzi Freidheim Center) has helped me in so many ways. I never knew parenting involved so much,” she said. Harris explained that the combination Head Start and full day child care services at the center “helps parents be leaders in their children's lives.”
But the cuts to Head Start would have a domino effect that would see thousands of preschool teachers - most of whom have some college education or have even completed two- and four-year degrees - lose their jobs as centers would be forced to reduce the number of children it enrolls. Parents would have to find other care for their children or, in
Zelita Harris' case, stay home with their kids and lose supportive serv- ices.
Obama has said the Republicans' proposed Head Start cuts and their far reaching effects “doesn't make sense.”
The Ounce of Prevention Fund, a leading childhood advocacy organi- zation, agrees.
“What (the cuts) means is that parents are going to be scrambling around, many of them will not be able to find care and they probably will not be able to find anything that is near as high quality care as (Head Start) provides. This is gonna make it harder for these parents to contin- ue to work if they don't have secure places to leave their children, “ said Karen Yarbrough, senior manager for the non-profit agency. Durbin suggested that, instead of having preschoolers bear the fiscal downsizing brunt, government sub- sidies to oil companies be cut and taxes for the wealthy be increased. Harris wants lawmakers to rethink taking money from Head Start. “It's vital that the children get what they need to be prepared for kindergarten or just be prepared for life in general,” the mother said.
26 Chicago Defender • ChicagoDefender.com
• March 23-29, 2011
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