Nationionwide Sequestration Cuts To Head Start Will Hit Home

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Years spent bouncing between states and continents through tours with the U.S. military caused the Mannoia family’s definition of “home” to change significantly.

Things grew even less stable after D’Angelo Mannoia and Crystal Mannoia split, leaving then 4-year-old Isabella with a distaste for school.

Until she enrolled in Head Start at Bridgehampton, that is.

“She’s doing great,” said her mom, Ms. Mannoia, an East Hampton resident, speaking recently from the Head Start location in Bridgehampton. She described her now 6-year-old daughter, who graduated from the program, as a “social butterfly,” “a very girly girl” and “very good at math.” Isabella’s younger sister Danica currently attends the program.

Ms. Mannoia is just one of many passionate advocates of the federally funded preschool program who fear the effects that recent budget cuts will have on society’s most at-risk population.

On March 1, budget sequestration kicked into effect, forcing across-the-board cuts in certain federal spending categories. For Head Start, that translated into a 5.27-percent budget cut to individual grants. On Long Island, that resulted in an approximately $800,000 cut. Long Island Head Start locations are going to be closing the program early this year, and possibly opening it later next year, to make up the cut, said Carol Burnett, the community outreach/recruitment coordinator for Long Island Head Start.

“We don’t want to have to do that,” said Ms. Burnett. “We don’t know at this point the exact date we’re closing and opening up, so it’s probably going to be earlier and later than in the past. I can tell you right now, these children are going to be in unsafe surroundings.”

The program will remain open for at least until the first week of June, according to a letter to parents penned by Debrah Garcia, the CEO/executive director of Long Island Head Start. Other impacts from cuts could include reduction to Head Start/Early Head Start enrollment, staff layoffs, administrative position reductions, cuts in contracts and lease agreements, wrote Ms. Garcia.

“We realize that these decisions will have a distressing impact on our Head Start and Early Head Start children, family and staff,” Ms. Garcia wrote. “However, these decisions must be made in order to absorb the approximately $800,000 budget cut.”

U.S. Representative Tim Bishop called sequestration a “horrible strategy.” It was implemented this year as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. The act provided for a few things: reduction in expenses by approximately $1 trillion over the course of the next 10 years to deal with the federal deficit, and the creation of a supercommittee charged with reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. If the group failed to come up with a plan then sequestration would be the law of the land—a mandatory cut of $1.2 trillion over the next decade. That affects programs like Head Start.

Mr. Bishop said in most of his 11 years of Congress there have been efforts each year to reduce Head Start funding, with critics calling it an ineffective program, and that ongoing funding of it amounts to throwing good money after bad.

“My opinion is that this is a federal program that has worked, that students who have gone through Head Start generally enter kindergarten and first grade, and so on, with somewhat of an advantage,” Mr. Bishop said. “And if you ask any educator how do we improve high school graduation rates, their response would be early childhood, early childhood, early childhood.”

The majority of the more than 50 students at the Bridgehampton Head Start hail from East Hampton and Springs, said Tara Daniels, the center manager. The program is important to families in many ways, said Daphne Gil, formerly the Bridgehampton Head Start center manager. That goes beyond simply education—for some, the meals and snacks served at Head Start can mean the difference between eating or not. She recalls one boy who went through a huge growth spurt under the program. He entered the program underweight and malnourished, and could barely speak, she said. Now he’s in first grade, speaking English and Spanish, reading and writing, and playing soccer.

“Those are the moments,” she said. “I would look at that little boy, how he changed from someone you wouldn’t even believe lived in America to this thriving, amazing kid. That, to me, is what we do.”

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