Early childhood education already feeling sequester cuts


by Colleen Flaherty

Christina Waller was an early childhood education teacher in Oregon for six years before she and several colleagues were laid off due to steep budget cuts. With the downsizing of her program, she’s most worried about the effect it will have on her students when sequestration hits her community.

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“Seventy young 3 to 5 year olds with disabilities and their families experienced an abrupt change in staffing as a result of these cuts. These young children with high needs are our most vulnerable,” said Waller.

Waller worked in a rural area where children under five – especially those with high needs – may not have access to any pre-K without her program.

“It is so important to keep the focus on enhancing all early childhood programs. Positive educational experiences maximize the student’s potential and provide support and resources for families.”

Unfortunately, if Congress allows the drastic across-the-board sequester cuts to take place, preschools will be hit hard. Special Education preschool grants will be cut by $19 million. Head Start, a federal program that provides preschool to low-income families, will be slashed by $406 million, which will certainly hurt the 5.1 million children under the age of five living in poverty.

“We need to provide pre-K for all children, no matter their background,” said Waller. “This is the beginning of their education. Why wouldn’t we want them to start out right?”

The White House agrees with Waller. In his State of the Union earlier this year, President Barack Obama stressed the importance of investing in early childhood education.

“Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than three in ten 4 year olds are enrolled in a high quality preschool program,” said Obama in his address.

“Studies show students [who attend preschool] grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.”

While studies agree with the president, the sequester cuts mean early childhood education in this country will shrink, not grow. In fact, Head Start programs in several states are already seeing the effect of these draconian cuts. In Indiana, two Head Start programs have already removed three dozen students by random drawing in order to offset the coming budget slashing.

Gina Hoeing has been a kindergarten teacher in Indiana for 12 years. Currently, only about half of her students have access to any type of pre-K. For her students that don’t attend preschool, Hoeing said they are falling behind their peers.

“With no preschool experience or no parent education on what is expected of 5 year olds, these children are failing before they even start kindergarten,” said Hoeing. “The low-income families cannot afford to pay the high price of a private preschool, let alone find a ride to get their child there.”

Without any early childhood education provided for families in need, the achievement gap widens significantly between students from low and high income families. According to the HighScope Perry Preschool Study, people who were in preschool programs are more likely to graduate from high school, own homes and have a higher income potential.

Sharon Bohn is a kindergarten teacher in an urban Ohio school where well over half of her students are living in poverty. Many of her students are fortunate to have access to Head Start.

“Many of my students come into kindergarten as at-risk students for many reasons. If Head Start is cut, they will not have any ability to attend preschool,” said Bohn. “Early childhood education is important for students to provide academics when children absorb knowledge like a sponge. They are excited to learn.”

“We absolutely need to provide funding to provide young children with the basic skills necessary to be successful throughout their lives.”

Reader Comments

  1. Obama did not fully explain the sequester did he? He did not mention why we would have to cut off college tuition programs for our soldiers returning from Iran with missing arms and legs did he? Did he say that we would STILL be spending millions each year to legalize gay marriage in other states and expand gay rights however? The money to spend on Lawmaker paychecks comes from the same department of treasury that will no longer fund college tuition for troops. Oh you think that lawmakers work for free writing new legislature for gay rights expansion programs? That money has to come from somewhere and it is called the department of treasury. We cant support the troops and gay marriage at the same time. Its now being called a sequester.

  2. Tweet on MEA on Head Start Sequestration March 30, 2013

    I feel for families in poverty, mercilessly taxed and put in poverty by 5% of US citizens’ families who have 60%of the nation’s wealth and haven’t even let out enough money for nearly half of American’s preschoolers to attend the preschool program for kids in poverty, Head Start–these families who are left in poverty without voice surviving on Medicaid and DHS benefits due to the American caste system, left to subsist in relentless poverty because the rich folk continue to deny the poor education for the jobs of middle class America but instead expect the poor to work for minimum wage under right to work legislation in the cycle of demeaning poverty. That’s too many kids and their parents to leave in poverty, and in the richest nation in the world just one child, one person, is too many in poverty. We need more equity amongst the people of the United States. All children must have the best preschool education in the world–enticing, creative and exciting in a rich, literate learning environment inclusive of higher thinking skills in all content areas. We must make pre-K though college the best education in the world for all America’s children and adults regardless of class, gender or race, and this will end poverty and endeavor to make all people equal as stated in The Constitution of the United States of America.

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