Federal budget cuts ‘chip away foundation’ for local families

Feb 26, 2013, 4:42 PM | Updated: Feb 27, 2013, 8:37 am
A program in White Center serves 2,000 families in the community and would have to eliminate Head S...
A program in White Center serves 2,000 families in the community and would have to eliminate Head Start education and child care services for 131 if the federal sequester cuts happen Friday. (Linda Thomas photo)
(Linda Thomas photo)
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“When they start behind, they stay behind,” says Lori Pittman.

Many of the kids with busy hands at the Educare Early Learning Center in White Center would be behind, if not for their Head Start program.

Head Start is an early education program three- and four-year-old children from low-income families. It’s to give them an academic boost before they get to kindergarten.

Pittman, who was once a recipient of Head Start services for her family, is now a leading advocate and policy adviser for the program.

She’s seen a transformation in a little girl who came into Head Start with a vocabulary of six words and problems at home. She’s now in her first year of kindergarten with no behavioral issues, reading at the same level, or slightly above, her peers.

“That’s just one. We have thousands of stories,” she says.

What if the young girl hadn’t been in Head Start?

“I believe she would be in a self-contained classroom with children who are having many behavioral issues, where the focus is on managing behavior rather than on learning,” Pittman says.

“She would have been somebody who ended up needing lots of support from the community and society for the majority of, if not all of, her life. Now she will end up being a successful citizen.”

Most of us know, in theory, that infants and toddlers who have quality child care and educational opportunities before the age of five would do better once they get to school.

Teacher Quinn Flanagen sees that reality every day.

Among the things she does, she teaches “calm down” techniques to toddlers such as counting and deep breathing.

“When you see children start to practice those same skills at home, I think that’s where the success is,” Flanagen says.

She also reassures me she could teach Congress and the President some of those calming techniques, if it meant avoiding the automatic budget cuts that are supposed to hit Friday.

The sequester will result in an overall 5.3 percent cut to Head Start and early learning programs in Washington. That means a cut of 1,000 children. At the program in White Center program, it would result in 131 slots, or 131 families that would lose services that include child care and more.

“These are working parents who rely on food stamps to feed their children because their wage is paying rent and gas and utilities. So, when we think about our families that’s our worry. How much can they take? How much of the foundation can you chip away at before they are really falling through the cracks? Families who live in poverty are taking the biggest hit,” Pittman says.

“Head Start, child care, children’s medical – when you think just about those things, it could really cause some families to have hardship that none of us have probably experienced.”

There are no signs that President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans are close to a budget deal just two days before $85 billion in cuts are set to hit federal programs.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, says the cuts to start Friday are “haphazard,” and affect “good programs and bad.”

By LINDA THOMAS

Related: Expect these automatic cuts in Washington State by Friday

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Federal budget cuts ‘chip away foundation’ for local families