Head Start funds could be restored

Published 11:21 am Friday, January 17, 2014


SUFFOLK—The Children’s Center hopes a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill announced this week by House and Senate budget negotiators in Washington will mean the restoration of Head Start and Early Head Start slots that were cut when the nation went off the so-called fiscal cliff.

After the center lost about $250,000 in federal funding in July, combined Head Start and Early Head Start places in Western Tidewater were cut from 556 to 510.

The Children’s Center offers Early Head Start, for birth through children age 3, and Head Start, for ages 3 to 5, in Suffolk, Franklin, Isle of Wight and Southampton.

Going beyond the classroom, the program involves things like health screenings and consultation on health insurance and whether participants have a family doctor.

“We make sure they have had all their shots,” the center’s community relations coordinator, Jeff Zeigler, said at the time of the cuts. “A lot of it has to do with parental involvement, and we have parent meetings and things like that. The impact is a lot bigger than just the children that won’t be in the classroom.”

A deal announced by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which still needs to be passed on the House and Senate floors but has attracted bipartisan support, boosts Head Start funding by more than $1 billion, and $612 million above pre-sequestration levels.

The funds boost for the program is included in a 12-part omnibus spending bill that would fund the government through the end of September.

Head Start and Early Head Start have been widely cited as major winners in the deal; $250 million will also be made available for states to develop preschool programs under the Race to the Top competitive grants initiative.

“We are hoping that this means good news for us,” Zeigler said. “We are hoping that what this means is that, at the minimum, we would have those slots restored.”

The slots were cut last year by not being filled, he said.

“I’m sure they must be missed, because they are just not there. Hopefully, now we can bring them back. I’m not sure when we’d be able to do that.”

Zeigler said he was yet to hear any feedback from the two programs’ national office.

In a news release, committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said, “a significant number of members worked on day and night all through the holidays” for “an agreement (that) shows the American people we can compromise.”