The Obama administration and congressional Democrats on Monday voiced rage over the disclosure 57,000 children would be dropped from Head Start programs throughout the country in the coming school year in order to meet spending cut targets under sequestration. That number represents fully 6.3 percent of the approximately 900,000 children enrolled in the program.
Head Start provides comprehensive pre-school education, health, nutrition and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. The program's services and resources are designed to foster stable family relationships, enhance children's physical and emotional well-being, and establish an environment to develop strong cognitive skills.
“The decision to take away funding for high quality early learning for tens of thousands of young Americans is indefensible morally and economically,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog post. “If we shortchange our children, we shortchange our nation. Strong early learning can translate into school success, which can lead to college and good jobs, and ultimately a robust economy.”
“So there is no question that these cuts jeopardize our children's futures,” she added.
Head Start programs will also be forced 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, according to HHS.
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA), said “It has been heartbreaking to visit Head Start centers where, even after laying off staff and asking others to take unpaid leave, budget cuts still require cutting the number of children who benefit from the crucial services Head Start offers.”
“I've heard stories like this from Washington State and across the country for months, and this new information makes it all the more clear that workers and families are struggling as a result of the automatic cuts, and that responsibly replacing sequestration must be our top priority," Murray said.
The new numbers were based on the results of “reduction plans” Head Start grantees submitted to HHS, according to the Washington Post. But the cuts fall short of earlier predictions by the Obama administration that 70,000 children would lose access to pre-school because of the mandatory 5 percent cut under budget sequestration.
Sebelius said that Head Start programs were encouraged to minimize disruptions to the children by cutting open slots after children graduated rather than removing children who were already enrolled. However, there was no legal room to shift funding to soften the blow, which meant that sequestration reduced every Head Start grant by the same percent. Some programs were forced to use a lottery to determine which children could continue to come to class and which would lose their seat.
Head Start and Early Head Start programs serve more than one million children from poor families. Advocates says the cuts to the program are compounding difficulties for families who already live on the margins.
The cuts were mandated as part of the first installment of a $1.2 trillion 10-year sequestration process under the 2011 Budget Control Act. The White House and congressional Democrats have been pressing the Republicans to replace the sequester with less onerous cuts in domestic and defense programs. But for now, however, the Democratic-controlled Senate and GOP-dominated House are light years apart on key fiscal matters.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported today that government officials have severely cut back spending for official travel under the strictures of the sequester. Most government travel budgets have been cut this year by 30 percent, the result of an administrative directive forcing managers to make difficult policy decisions about whom to send, where to send them and how long.
As a result, The Times reported, geological visits to monitor volcanoes in Alaska have been scaled back, the defense secretary is traveling to Afghanistan two times a year instead of the usual four, and for the first time in nearly three decades, NASA pulled out of the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, even after representatives from France, Germany and China all made the trip.