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Head Start Back In Business Thanks To Private Donation In Wake Of Government Shutdown

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WASHINGTON -- Head Start doors will remain open through the end of October after philanthropists offered up to $10 million to the embattled institution.

Laura and John Arnold, who made their money in the hedge fund and oil and gas industries, said on Monday that they would be donating emergency funds to the Head Start program so that some 7,000 kids from low-income families could continue to receive educational services.

Many Head Start classrooms were put on the brink of closure after the federal government shutdown pulled their funding, forcing parents to cope with the loss of their schools and the vital services they provided. Some Head Start staff have been forced to look for other employment as the shutdown has dragged into its second week.

The philanthropists' gift was announced by the National Head Start Association. It will allow children to return to their classrooms as early as Tuesday morning. A spokesperson for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation told The Huffington Post that the $10 million will come from the family's private account, not the foundation.

According to the National Head Start Association press release, the money will "provide assistance to Head Start and Early Head Start programs that were forced to close or are facing closure this month as a result of the government shutdown."

Seven Head Start programs, mainly in southern states like Alabama and Florida, had been affected. The closure of those programs left 7,195 kids without services, the release states. Tens of thousands of children are at risk of losing their childcare and pre-K services if the government shutdown continues into November, according to the association.

"The programs have been allocated federal money but are unable to access it due to the stalemate in Washington," the association wrote.

"The Arnolds were concerned after learning about the impact the government shutdown would have on so many Head Start children, so they came forward and offered this assistance as a result," said Gary Larson, a spokesperson for the family. "They are proponents of the programs and wanted to help see that the kids and their families who depend on Head Start weren’t impacted."

In a statement sent to HuffPost, the Arnolds said they were "disappointed in the stalemate that has led to the government's shutdown"

"We believe that it is especially unfair that young children from underprivileged communities and working families pay the price for the legislature's collective failures," the Arnolds stated. "In an effort to address this injustice, we will help keep the doors open at Head Start programs across the country this month. We sincerely hope that our government gets back to work in short order, as private dollars cannot in the long term replace government commitments.”

The surprise donation means that the Head Start program in Tallahassee will reopen tomorrow, Tim Center, the executive director of the Capital Area Community Action Agency, told HuffPost. The Action Agency oversees the program in the Tallahassee area, which provides services to 378 children.

"We will be opening everything up," Center said. "We are pretty sure we will be able to open tomorrow and stay up through the end of the month. Beyond then, we don't have any plans."

Jonathan Bines, the executive director of the five-county Head Start program in Mississippi, said he plans on opening Tuesday as well.

Parents started getting notifications around noon. For Kim Maxwell, the news meant that she could begin working at her house-cleaning business full-time again, and send her son Matthew back to his Tallahassee school that he had grown to love. "I feel awesome," Maxwell said. But she added that she's concerned that Head Start could be made vulnerable in the future by Washington infighting.

Maxwell said that when she picks her son up from school tomorrow, she plans on talking to parents about organizing a kind of lobbying effort to convince their congressmen to make sure this doesn't happen again.

"This is affecting our children," Maxwell said. "And the teachers. I just don't want it to end again ... Why can't Matt's school keep on going?"

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