Head Start, a Rocky Mountain Development Council-administered program, is facing a nearly $100,000 cut in its federal funding.
The local Head Start director, Patty Dahl, and members of the Rocky Mountain Development Council, offered a bleak outcome for the 5 percent loss due to across-the-board federal cuts imposed March 1 because of sequestration.
Here in Lewis and Clark County, fewer children may be accepted and more placed on a waiting list say Dahl and Curt Chisholm, the Rocky Mountain Development Council interim director.
The mandatory reductions in spending are the result of a failed bid in 2011 to find a less painful way to cut spending whose consequences were delayed until March 1 by a fiscal deal that came together on New Year’s Day.
According to the Administration for Children and Families, which is a part of the Department of Health & Human Services, about 70,000 children nationwide will lose access to the program because of the cuts.
The program will not see changes this month or next, Dahl said.
“It’s May 1 we need to start thinking of how we’re going to cut 5 percent of our budget,” she said.
“One-hundred thousand is a lot of money,” she continued. “I think we’re going to have to start thinking about reducing the number of children.”
Chisholm later said he agreed with that assessment, although no decisions were made on what the loss of money will mean to the program here.
She noted the need to retain a qualified program and asked the Rocky Mountain board to consider appointing a committee to look at how the program should absorb the loss of funding.
Chisholm and Daniel Pocha, who is the Rocky Mountain vice chairman, said there are 100 children on a waiting list and about half of them are from families where the income is at the poverty level. The 2013 federal poverty level for a family of four, for example, is $23,550 while a three-person family would have an income of $19,530.
Head Start began as a result of President Lyndon Johnson’s declared war on poverty in his State of the Union address in January 1964.
The program seeks to provide preschool children of low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs. It has grown from an eight-week demonstration project in 1965 to become a full day, all year service that has served more than 30 million children.
Reducing bus service was mentioned during the Rocky Mountain board meeting, but no decision was made on this as a way to reduce costs.
“If the low-income kids can’t get to school (at Head Start), it doesn’t matter if we have another classroom for them,” Chisholm added.
According to a Human Resources Development Council brochure, the Census Bureau found in 2011 that 15 percent of Montanans and 1 out of 5 Montana children live beneath the poverty line.
According to Dahl’s report for Head Start in Februay, 236 children were enrolled.
The March numbers showed that 214 children had completed well-child exams and 202 had completed dental exams. Individual education plans were in effect for 58 children with 37 receiving assistance in speech and language, 17 for developmental delay one child to help address multiple disabilities and three children with hearing impairment.
Of the 157 Head Start children who are going into kindergarten this fall, 17 of them were rated as needing intensive work in individual and classroom capability. Another 27 children were determined to be between those needing intensive work and 113 others who were determined to be at the benchmark level.
Among other data given to Rocky Mountain board members was that 177 of the 236 children in Head Start are at a healthy weight and 29 are overweight. Another 26 children are said to be obese and two are under-weight.
A program to encourage reading by children and parents exceeded its goal of 50,000 minutes by more than 50 percent. That qualified Head Start for a $750 award from Mountain West Bank.