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.”