Local preschool programs lose out in sequester

March 8, 2013
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Fewer needy families in El Paso County will have access to free preschool and other services in coming months.

Federal budget cuts called sequestration chopped funding for a variety of education programs — including Head Start and Early Head Start.

Community Partnership for Child Development (CPCD), which runs programs across the county, needs to cut over half a million dollars in the next six months.

“There are certainly no easy choices,” said Noreen Landis-Tyson, CPCD’s president and chief executive officer. “We’re a pretty lean and mean program.”

Some services planned as year-round will not be offered this summer, she said. There will also be fewer Head Start slots available in the fall. In all, 150 slots will be lost as a result of the budget-slashing measure that went into effect March 1, eliminating $1.2 trillion in federal spending over the next decade.

That’s bad news when there are already 500 kids on waiting lists, she said. Most parents won’t even sign up when they hear about a waiting list, she added. Last year, there were 1,000 kids on the wait list.

Head Start and Early Head Start are funded by federal discretionary spending under the Department of Health and Human Services and need congressional approval every year, Landis-Tyson said. Sequestration decreased the grant funding for the programs halfway into the fiscal year.

Landis-Tyson said CPCD learned March 1 that the total cut for her agency was $530,000, about 5 percent of the budget for the two programs.

“I don’t think anyone believed we would actually get to this — especially Head Start,” she said.

Most of the agency’s budget covers payroll, Landis-Tyson said. There aren’t many alternatives to cut spending except to cut back on staff, she said, which means decreasing the numbers of slots for kids.

“We’re still going to be serving a lot of kids,” Landis-Tyson said. “We’re not dropping anyone who is currently enrolled.”

However, the number of kids in Early Head Start and Head Start is only a fraction of the kids living in poverty who qualify for services. About 800 slots are paid for with state money.

The CPCD cuts will be felt starting in May and continue through the fall, Landis-Tyson said. Attendance drops during summer months, and not as many new kids will be added to programs in the fall.

A little preparation early in a child’s life can have a lasting impact, Landis-Tyson said.

“We are absolutely moving in the wrong direction,” she said.

Contact Kristina Iodice: 636-0162 Twitter @GazetteKristina Facebook Kristina Iodice

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