Four Head Start programs, which run 50 sites that serve 3,200 low-income preschoolers, have had to close their doors so far because of the shutdown, according to a spokeswoman. Eleven more will have to follow suit by Friday if the government doesn’t reopen.
The programs are among 23 across the country that ran out of funding on September 30 and were expecting more federal grant money come October 1. That money didn’t show up when Congress failed to reach an agreement Monday night and the government shut down.
Some sites had already shuttered by Monday morning, including nine in Florida that served 400 children. Now many others have joined their ranks. Thus far, the list of closed programs includes Talladega Clay Randolph Child Care Corporation in Alabama, which serves 898 children; Action for Bridgeport Community Development in Connecticut, serving 1,019; Capital Area Community Action Agency in Florida, serving 378; and Five County Child Development Program in Mississippi, serving 900. If the shutdown lasts into November, many more programs will have to close up shop in different states across the country.
Thousands of children had already been kicked out of Head Start before the shutdown began. More than 57,000 preschoolers lost their slots at the beginning of the school year thanks to the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, coming on top of earlier losses. Centers have also had to reduce the number of days they are open by 1.3 million collectively and the hours they operate by 18,000. The cuts impact the staff as well, 18,000 of whom experienced layoffs or pay reductions. And some parents report having to quit their jobs when their children lose their Head Start places because they have no where else to send them when they go to work.
All of these cutbacks come at a time when the United States falls far behind its developed peers when it comes to early childhood education. It ranks at number 24 globally for how many three-year-olds are enrolled and number 26 for four-year-olds. It comes in at number 21 in terms of what percentage of GDP is spent on preschool. Yet quality preschool is an investment that enjoys high returns: for every dollar spent, $11 in economic benefits over the lifetimes of children who attend and $7 in savings for the economy in general.