The federal sequester budget cuts the U.S. Congress could not alter when budget deficit deals feel through have become reality for the Head Start programs of Pike County and northeastern Missouri.
Last week, Douglass Community Services, which handles Louisiana and Bowling Green’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs, announced that 28 of its 100 Pike County student slots have been cut for the coming school year.
Across the eight counties for which Douglas Community Services provides the programs from its Hannibal office, 77 children slots were lost.
That means Pike County alone absorbed 36 percent of the child slot losses. Ralls, Monroe and Shelby counties lost none.
“We had to look at areas where we were struggling to keep enrollment and waiting lists up,” said Douglass Community Services Executive Director Dave Dexheimer.
Part of the problem is Pike County service need numbers are not as high because younger families who qualify are leaving the area, Dexheimer said.
The Head Start programs provide health, nutrition and social services to low-income children from birth to five years old.
Eight of the 16 early Head Start slots for infants and toddlers will be lost in Bowling Green due to a $250,000 cut into Douglass Community Services $6 million budget.
Louisiana will retain its four early Head Start slots, according to Dexheimer.
Both Pike County Head Start sites serving three to five-year-olds will lose 10 slots apiece or 20 overall, Dexheimer said.
Douglas Services initially cut 40 on-site slots, but then turned around and created in-home services for 20 of those 40 children, 10 apiece in Louisiana and Bowling Green.
Families with lost slots who have parents going to school or working “will now have to pay $80 to $120 per week for private day care,” said Douglass’ Head Start Director Linda Bleything.
“It’s especially hard on Pike County because there are very few resources,” Bleything said.
“We know it will be an imposition,” Dexheimer said. “Practically every Head Start program in the country is feeling these cuts. We regret it came to this but we had no choice.”
In addition, both the Louisiana and Bowling Green sites will lose one Head Start teacher and one teacher’s aide. However, each site will receive a new in-home teacher in the adjustment for a net loss of one employee per site, or two overall.
That means Pike County came out better on the instruction end of the cuts, which saw 18 staff members cut of 140 overall in the eight counties. The other counties are Lewis, Macon, Marion and Randolph
Clouding the situation is the uncertainty of whether Congress will pass a budget before the beginning of the next fiscal year on Tuesday, Oct. 1, Dexheimer said.
If the lost funding is brought back in that budget, Douglass Community Services will try to revive lost Head Start services, he added.