Sequester Cuts Over 4,000 Kids From Head Start in TX

Remember the sequester? The massive across-the-board spending cuts that were never supposed to go into effect, but then did when Congressional Republicans couldn't compromise with Democrats on a solution. It was big news in March when the cuts went into effect, but since, the sequester has slowly faded from public consciousness as the news media has found newer, flashier stories to report on.

As attention on the sequester has waned, we've also largely turned our attention away from the lives of people affected by the sequester. That most of those affected are low-income doesn't help - the poor have no lobby. But the sequester briefly made the headlines again last month, when it was reported that 57,000 children will be cut from Head Start this year as a result of the sequester.

Texas is one of the states hardest hit by the Head Start cuts. Sequestration means 4,410 Texas kids won't be part of Head Start this year. They don't have the funding because House and Senate Republicans (including the Texas delegation) voted to keep the sequester, instead of compromising with Democrats on a more balanced budget. Because of our lawmakers' refusal to cooperate, over 4,000 of Texas's poorest children won't have access to Head Start this fall.

Head Start is a national early childhood education program that helps prepare low-income children for school. Head Start programs support a variety of areas of both cognitive and physical development, including "language and literacy, cognition and general knowledge, physical development and health, social and emotional development, and approaches to learning." Their services can be based in actual Head Start centers or schools, family child care homes, or even in a child's own home with visits from a staff member. Head Start itself serves preschool-age children, while a separate division called Early Head Start serves pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. Their overall mission is to improve the school readiness of low-income children from birth to age 5.

Cuts to Head Start will remove 57,000 children from programs nationwide this year (51,000 from Head Start and 6,000 from Early Head Start). Even those kids who will remain in Head Start will see services drastically reduced. According to HHS, budget cuts will force Head Start to "cut 1.3 million days of service, provide 18,000 fewer hours of service through shortened school days, [and] terminate or reduce salaries of 18,000 employees." These have already had an effect in Texas. Head Start of Greater Dallas had to close two of its 46 locations in the spring, causing 360 children to lose access to services. Since the cuts are going to be phased in, the situation is only going to get worse over time.

Head Start cuts aren't just a problem now; they will have real long-term consequences. Early childhood education is an incredibly important step to help low-income kids break the cycle of poverty. A study from Columbia University found that quality "early education programming can produce lasting gains...for children who otherwise may fall behind in school as a result of growing up in poverty with families who cannot provide the necessary resources and support for school success." Early childhood education equips low-income children with the tools they need to thrive in school and move beyond poverty. This makes it a sound public investment. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that "a public dollar spent on high quality early childhood education can return $7 through increased productivity and savings on public assistance and criminal justice programs." Programs like Head Start help children now, and save the government money in the long run.

Six months ago, Republican legislators let the sequester pass instead of agreeing to a compromise. Since then there have been few real efforts to address the effect the sequester is having on low-income Americans. Our lawmakers seem to only be interested in acting to resolve the sequester if it directly affects them. (Remember how quickly Congress passed a bill restoring funding to the TSA once they realized the sequester would make their airport waits longer?) The spending cuts from the sequester have hit almost everywhere except Congressional paychecks, so they've failed to act. Not only is this selfish, it's also extremely short-sighted. Cutting Head Start means thousands of children won't be able to gain skills that will help them out of poverty, and this harms everyone in the long run. In Texas, over 4,000 kids will be deprived of the opportunity to excel simply due to where they happened to be born. All because of a political bargaining ploy that spun out of control, and was then forgotten.

Some communities have stepped up to help their local Head Start organizations, but this fix isn't sustainable in the long run. What we really need is commitment from our national leaders to fix this issue. We can do our part by contacting elected officials and reminding them about the thousands of children who won't be in Head Start this year, lending our voices to those who need them. Then, we can hope our leaders will muster up some empathy and try to help the kids who need it most.

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