WASHINGTON — Nearly 57,000 of the nation’s economically disadvantaged children will be denied access to the Head Start and Early Head Start programs this year due to cuts caused by sequestration.
The federal pre-K education program, which serves low-income families throughout the United States, will take a 5.27 percent hit amounting to 18,000 Head Start staff either losing employment or facing salary cuts. Head Start advocates have said that the depletion in funds, approximately $405 million, has far reaching impacts on the development of at-risk children and their families.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has called for community action against the cuts.
“For many young children in this country, the road to a better life begins when they enter a high-quality early-learning program like Head Start,” she said in a statement. “When they do, we all benefit because they are better prepared to go to school, start a career and achieve success. But recent events have placed new obstacles on that road.”
Head Start, which serves children aged 3 to 5, was initially launched in 1965 as a summer school program to prepare low-income children for kindergarten. Since then, the program has grown to include Early Head Start, which serves children less than 3 years old, and has served more than 30 million students.
According to the National Head Start Association, students who participate in Head Start programs gain educational, economic and health benefits. Communities benefit from Head Start, the organization said, because children who participate in the programs are less likely to commit crimes when compared to siblings who do participate in Head Start programs.
“The decision to take away funding for high quality early learning for tens of thousands of young Americans is indefensible morally and economically. If we shortchange our children, we shortchange our nation,” Sebelius said in a statement. “Strong early learning can translate into school success, which can lead to college and good jobs, and ultimately a robust economy.”
Sebelius cited research that suggests that for every public dollar spent on early childhood education, communities receive a $7 return through increased productivity and savings on public assistance and criminal justice programs.
“So there is no question that these cuts jeopardize our children’s futures. America now ranks 28th globally in early childhood education enrollment and now risks falling even further behind in preparing our children for school,” Sebelius said in a statement. “We can’t win the race for the future by holding back our children at the starting line.”