Education Groups Petition Senator Warren to Support Head Start

Aug 22, 2013

A Head Start student poses in front of the "Not Going Back to School" Bus and the 2,015 silhouettes representing the children in Massachusetts who are losing access to Head Start this year because of budget cuts.
A Head Start student poses in front of the "Not Going Back to School" Bus and the 2,015 silhouettes representing the children in Massachusetts who are losing access to Head Start this year because of budget cuts.
Credit Massachusetts Fair Share

While many kids are preparing for the start of the school, federal budget cuts are leaving some in Massachusetts unsure about what the school year holds.

As part of its “Kids, Not Cuts!” rally Wednesday, Massachusetts Fair Share delivered a petition with more than 5,000 signatures to Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s district office in Boston. The advocacy group’s hope is to make more people aware of the effects cuts to federal education spending are having. An estimated 2,015 pre-schoolers in the state have no school to go to this September because federal cuts have reduced funding for Head Start programs, according to State Director of Massachusetts Fair Share Nathan Proctor. He says Head Start relies more directly on federal aid than public schools; creating a real human cost as the program is slated to serve 57,000 fewer children across the country this year.

“Very difficult situations for parents," Proctor said. "If they were expecting to send their kids to Head Start and they can’t because there’s no classroom. Or if they were in Head Start and now they’re not. Now they need to figure out if they need alternate child care, if the parent needs to stay home from work. It puts a lot of pressure on the family budget.”

As a result, Berkshire County Head Start, which offers free, income eligible pre-school programs and at-cost child care and family services, will close one of its five classrooms at its Johnson school site in North Adams. Executive Director Stacy Parsons says the closing impacts 18 kids and two full-time positions. She says they have been able to retain those teachers in other positions because two other workers left the program.

“The priority was placed on what could we do that wasn’t going to impact parents and children," said Parsons. "So, many of the cuts this year, other than the Johnson classroom, were around reducing hours for positions, our managers are taking ten furlough days.”

Parsons says roughly $128,000 of a $2.4 million annual budget has been cut from the Berkshire County Head Start Program this year. Now, the program has eliminated field trips and will open schools later than usual on September 18th and close earlier than normal in early May. Parsons says the organization will seek grants while working with existing and new community collaborators to fill the holes left by the cuts.

“Finding voucher funding to help support child care," she said.  "So that parents who are going back to school or parents that are working, can also provide child care so that they can do those things and better their family.”

Parsons stresses the real concern is the future.

“While this year we were able to make it work, next year if we had to absorb the same level of cuts, we’re in a much more difficult position," she said. "We’re worried about that.”

Congress has cut $1.7 billion in federal education spending nationwide, meaning next month Massachusetts is set to lose $47 million in aid usually meant to support its schools. Laura Barrett is a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Teachers Association. She says the National Education Association estimates the cuts will eliminate $10.7 million in funding for Title 1, which supports districts with low-income students, and about $15 million from IDEA, which helps schools with disabled students. The association represents teachers statewide and partnered with Massachusetts Fair Share and Head Start at Wednesday’s rally.

“Children do much better in school if they’ve had a quality pre-school experience, which Head Start can give them," said Barrett. "If they don’t have that and they come to school not ready to learn, that’s not good for anyone."

Senator Warren was reached after the story's broadcast. She thanked the groups for filing the petition, calling the cuts to Head Start programs "a disaster." She says Congress should increase federal education spending.