Cuts could hurt Head Start children

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WALLA WALLA — Anticipated cuts to federal programs are expected to have an impact on area children served by the federal and state public preschool programs.

Washington state Head Start/ECEAP officials are warning 1,400 children stand to lose slots throughout the state if the cuts go into effect in January.

The figure is calculated from anticipated across-the-board cuts to federal programs, which would include Head Start. The pending cuts stem from the failure of a congressional panel to agree to a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit.

The cuts would be effective in January unless other action is taken to save the programs, said Joel Ryan, executive director of the Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP/Washington State Training Consortium.

Ryan said 1,400 slots are predicted to be cut in Washington state, with about 32 children impacted locally.

The Migrant Head Start program, located at the Farm Labor Homes in College Place, would lose 12 slots and one early Head Start space. Children’s Home Society would have to cut eight Early Head Start spaces from its program. Walla Walla Public Schools Head Start/ECEAP program at Blue Ridge Elementary would lose 11 spots for children.

Ryan pointed out that the timing of the cuts would leave families scrambling to find child care or other preschool options in the middle of a school year.

The federal Head Start program, and the state Early Childhood Education & Assistance Program (ECEAP) program offer subsidized preschool education to low-income families. The program is also available to children with physical or learning disabilities regardless of income.

Local resident Nicole Gonzales spoke in support of the local Head Start/ECEAP program last week. Her 4-year-old son, Benjamin Garcia, is in his second year at Blue Ridge Elementary’s preschool program.

Gonzales said her son began at the program last year speaking behind other children his age.

Gonzales serves on the WSA Head Start/ECEAP Parent Ambassador Program and the local policy council.

Through her work as a parent ambassador, Gonzales learned about the looming cuts to federal Head Start and the state impact. Gonzales chose to speak in support of the public preschool program.

At a recent press conference, Gonzales spoke about her son starting preschool with a speech delay, and how she watched his vocabulary grow tenfold.

“Not only did his verbal communication grow, but his math skills increased tremendously,” she said, describing how a year ago he had trouble counting to 10, but now can easily get to 40. She believes Ben will be counting to 100 by the end of the year, a skill typically reached at the end of kindergarten.

Besides math and language, he is also doing arts and crafts, music, playing indoors and outside, and enjoying time with other children.

“He is having the opportunity to engage socially with other children his age in a quality educational environment,” she said.

The program has been a resource to her as well, offering home visits, parenting tips, and access to social services. She knows many families feel the same, and would suffer in the face of cuts.

“I want to really highlight the importance of having early learning education so they’re kindergarten ready,” Gonzales said, noting that access should not just be made available to those with higher incomes.

“Kindergarten readiness should not depend on a parents ability to pay,” she said.

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