The loss of $113,000 in federal funds, cut in the March 1 federal sequestration, could mean the Head Start Community Program of Morris County will have to turn away 17 to 34 children, said executive director Eileen Jankunis.
The student enrollment drop would represent between 7 to 14 percent of the current student body of 250, and could result in up to five teachers losing their jobs, she said. The program runs centers that offer both Head Start and Early Head Start in Morristown, Dover and Hanover.
As with other programs faced with cuts from the $85 billion that through the sequester must be cut from the 2013 federal budget, it is the timing of the cuts that is troublesome, Jankunis said. As a result, she said, if the cuts hold, the program would reduce student enrollment in September, rather than remove current students.
“The effect of theses cuts would be felt when our students enter public school,” she said.
Most of the Head Start students are Spanish speaking and receive instruction in English.
“We send them to public school speaking English,” Jankunis said. The cost of English as a second language instruction, and for other special needs would be added to the current local school budgets, she said.
“Studies have shown for every $1 spent on Head Start, there is a long range social benefit of $7,” Jankunis said. “Head Start students graduate from high school, graduate from college and become taxpayers. In addition, there is a reduction in the number of children who enter the juvenile criminal justice system.”
The sequester cuts will affect 1,300 students in New Jersey Head Start programs, and possibly 70,000 nationwide.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the Harding Republican whose 11th Congressional District includes part of Morris County, said, “The blunt ‘across-the-board’ nature of the ‘sequester’ does not allow for smart budgeting, and I have already voted twice to replace these reductions with more sensible ones. As a longtime supporter of Head Start, I view potential budget cuts to such an important program as another reason why sequestration is a bad idea.”
He further said, “Clearly, Head Start is a valuable program. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the future health, education and welfare of our children are tied to bipartisan agreements on getting our federal debt under control. In a $4 trillion federal budget, there’s a responsible set of reductions totaling $85 billion out there. Without delay we should find them, vote on them and send them to the President’s desk for his signature.”
Morris County’s Head Start program provides support for eight pregnant women; 16 children from birth to 18 months in a home-based program; 24 children ages 18 months to three years in a center-based program; and 197 students ages 3 to 5 years in center-based programs, the program’s 2012 annual report said.
The program has an annual budget of $573,719 for Early Head Start and $2,072 million for Head Start, according to its 2012 audited financial report.
The bulk of the funding, 88 percent, comes from the federal government, while the rest is raised through the United Way of Northern New Jersey, the Wharton, Dover and Morris schools districts for child services, and grants and donations.
The program requires parental involvement, provides meals for the children while in session, and with grant support, provides access to medical and dental care for the families.
The cut represents 5 percent of its funding for this year from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, she said. The potential impacts spread beyond the loss of instruction for young children, she said, and could include loss of health care, child care and even income for the Head Start families.
Jankunis said the improvements in education skills and social development of Head Start students are documented through progressive evaluations during the school year using nationally recognized evaluation software and methods .
According to the annual report, Early Head Start students made significant progress in development areas, including social-emotional, language, cognitive development, literacy, math and physical development. The students tested at or near the bottom of the expected range at the beginning of the school year, and generally reached the middle or top or the expected range at the end of the year, the annual report said.
The results were repeated for Head Start students, the report said.
'We Help a Lot of Children'
The budget cuts concern teachers Sylvia Melgar and Carmen Jabue, who said that losing teachers would affect the quality of the program, and having children being cut from the program would have impacts for the families beyond the loss of their child’s education start.
Each woman had children in Head Start who were given a strong boost toward their entry to public education and broader life.
Jabue’s daughter, Jessica, is now 28, a mechanical engineer and team leader at her company, her mother said. When she entered the program, her daughter had not been exposed to the education system “but was ready to learn,” Jabue said.
She said the loss of student openings and the loss of teachers has the potential to slow the development of the children and impact the economic development of the families.
Taking a student out of Head Start could mean a parent might have to quit their job to care for that child at home, she said. The cost of child care is very high, and for a lower-income family, could be a cost they can not afford.
The 2012 report by the United Way on the economic situation of the state’s working poor, “ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” said the cost of child care has a significant impact on a lower-income family’s budget.
“The Household Survival Budget includes the cost of care in registered home-based child care at an average rate of $684 per month for an infant and $588 per month for a 4-year-old,“ the report said.
“However, licensed and accredited child care centers are significantly more expensive with an average cost of $932 per month and $770 per month, respectively. The cost of child care was calculated using the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies’ annual survey.”
Melgar began her involvement with Head Start as a volunteer and is now a full-time teacher.
Her daughter, now 5, went through the program and entered kindergarten knowing her ABCs and her numbers.
“We help a lot of children with a lot of issues,” she said.