AFSA attends Event Discussing Damages to the Head Start Program Due to Sequestration

CAP event Aug 28On Wednesday, August 28th, AFSA attended an event held at the Center for American Progress (CAP), “Empty Seats, Lost Opportunities.” The event’s focus was on the critical Head Start program, and the damage sequestration is causing to the program, and more importantly, the children it serves.

Head Start has provided comprehensive services for poor children since 1965. However, this national commitment is being threatened by sequestration, as an estimated 57,000 children will lose access to Head Start this school year. Yasmina Vinci, Executive Director for the National Head Start Association highlighted the damage sequestration is causing. She called on Congress to reverse these damaging cuts, and instead invest in Head Start and Early Learning. She pointed out that for every one dollar invested in early learning there is a return of $7.

Ms. Vinci also pointed out that these cuts do not only affect the immediate child, but also the child’s parent or parents. Without a slot in a Head Start program, the parent will unlikely be able to afford care at a private center, and be forced to stay home and forgo employment. This has an obvious economic impact as well.

Next to speak was Ouida Foster Toutebon, Executive Director of the Head Start of Rockland, Inc. located in New York. Ms. Toutebon stressed the importance of the Head Start program for children, and also for teachers and staff employed at the center.  She discussed how cuts are forcing teacher layoffs, which means that even for children lucky enough to keep their slot, they are likely not getting the same level of quality care as before.

The last segment of the program was a panel of distinguished speakers moderated by Christina Samuels of Education Week. The panelists briefly discussed President Obama’s Early Learning initiative, which would provide $75 billion over the next 10 years to support states’ early learning programs. The proposal has broad support in the Senate, but seems unlikely to make it through the House.

The panel also discussed the current fiscal climate, and the possibility of the Head Start cuts being reversed in the future. While it seems this is a possibility, Michael Linden pointed out that Congress tend to prefer the status quo. And since the current status quo includes sequestration, it will be difficult to reverse the cuts. If sequestration continues in 2014, thousands more families will be faced with hard choices about finding safe, healthy learning environments for their young children.

However, the panel also stated that if we are able to put real faces and stories to the numbers behind the cuts, then it may be possible to effect change. AFSA strongly supports the Head Start program, and urges you to contact your representatives to invest in – not cut – Head Start and early learning programs.