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Head Start funds face ax if Congress OKs budget

Local youngsters are in jeopardy of losing their spots in the Tri-County Community Action Agency (TCCAA) Head Start program if a proposed 25 percent cut in federal spending is approved Friday.

A budget bill that passed the U. S. House of Representatives proposes cutting an estimated $1.1 billion that local Head Start officials say would mean cuts to staff, resources, services and even the number of students who could be accepted into the program.

Head Start is a nationwide program that provides low-income children with an opportunity to go to preschool.

Although the local Head Start program director doesn’t know specifically how the proposed cut would affect the TCCAA program located on Riverdale Hill, she worries that cuts would affect the children and families most in need in this area.

According to TCCAA Head Start Director Patricia Taylor, the local program is available to children of low-income households who stand in the greatest need of services.

“It’s based on income,” she said of the program that prepares its young participants to go to public school and ensures all kinds of their health needs are met including nutrition, physicals, hearing and speech screenings and dental work.

These 3 and 4-year-olds in low-income families would be at a disadvantage starting school if they weren’t able to attend Head Start, Taylor maintained.

“Thanks to the Head Start program when they go into the (elementary) classroom they will not be bothered with toothaches and the like that could hinder their learning,” Taylor said.

However, she fears a reduction in federal dollars could mean fewer opportunities will be available for children most in need.

“Head Start really and truly works. If it weren’t for this program, these children would not be able to succeed like many from higher income families. If not for this program some of their medical and dental needs may not be taken care of,” she added.

Taylor views Head Start as an investment in children and their families.

“We offer a component of parent involvement. Head Start provides parents an opportunity to get involved in their child’s education, and we work with the whole family in making sure needs are met and linking the family with services and resources that will move the family to self-sufficiency,” she said.

Head Start offers training workshops that family members might otherwise not seek out, Taylor continued.

For example, she pointed to classes offered about budgeting, creating resumes, filling out job applications, first aid, CPR, home safety and how to care for children.

This year, 181 children are involved in the local federally-funded Head Start program that includes 130 from Halifax County and 51 from Mecklenburg County.

On the economic side, Head Start provides jobs for 45 employees, Taylor said, estimating it brings in about $1.5 million in revenue to the county as well.

She said for every dollar spent for a Head Start child, about $7 comes back to the community through employment and family stability, decreased welfare dependency, grade repetition and crime costs.

“We have a tracking mechanism to keep up with our students, and they do very well,” she said. “We have a proven track record with very good outcomes. We see our students graduate high school, and it’s amazing to see how they’re doing. It makes us feel so proud,” she added.

Head Start is a good investment, Taylor said. “It’s a shame they’re thinking about cutting it. I’m praying about it.”

The Head Start director also said she has gotten emails from concerned individuals who are worried about what the cuts could mean to the local program.

“We think it would be devastating to cut Head Start funding. We need to invest more in our children at an early age as intervention,” Taylor concluded.

Lawmakers have until Friday to finalize the federal budget.