WASHINGTON -- Head Start, the federal pre-K education service for low-income families, has eliminated services for more than 57,000 children in the coming school year as a result of the federal budget reductions known as sequestration.
The cuts include a shorter school year and shorter school days, as well as laying off or reducing the pay for more than 18,000 employees nationwide. Others eliminated medical and dental screenings and bus routes.
The latest numbers, first reported by the Washington Post, come from "reduction plans" Head Start grantees submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start had to absorb a 5.27 percent reduction to its $8 billion in funding.
All told, 57,265 children (nearly 6,000 of whom attend Early Head Start) saw their services eliminated, according to data provided to The Huffington Post by HHS. The state to take the biggest hit was California, where 5,611 Head Start kids were denied a spot in the program. In Texas, that number was 4,410. In New York it was 3,847. But underscoring just how widespread the effects of sequestration have been felt, even smaller states were impacted. In North Dakota, Head Start eliminated 194 slots in its program. In Rhode Island, it cut 450 positions. Even in far-flung Hawaii, 72 Head Starts slots were slashed.
Head Start is best known for providing preschool to low-income students, but it supplies many of its 960,000 children with two hot meals a day, transportation to and from school and basic medical care. When these services are eliminated, it also affects parents, who often must find difficult-to-afford day care services or take off days of work to tend to their children. HHS data says that Head Start will have administered 1,342,015 fewer days of service nationwide because of sequestration cuts.
Starting on Monday, Head Start will be holding events in congressional districts around the country -- while lawmakers are home for recess -- to raise awareness of sequestration's harmful effects. Supporters will be lining up empty child-size seats or cribs in front of Head Start buildings to show how many children will be losing out.
"Child care can cost $540 a month. And if you are 200 percent below the poverty line, then you are going to have a hard time providing that," Dr. Barbara Coatney, executive director of the Gulf Coast Community Action Agency, which oversees eight Head Start centers, told The Huffington Post. "Some of the poorest children in Mississippi won't be able to get child care through Head Start because of sequestration."