Shavon Collier is one of the lucky parents who was able to keep her daughter in Head Start this year. But if sequestration continues, she could very well find herself among the 57,000 currently experiencing cuts – which would mean losing vital services for her child and possibly even her job.
Raya, Collier’s daughter, is four and will be starting her Head Start program in Washington, DC. “Raya and I were so lucky,” she told the audience at an event Wednesday at the Center for American Progress. She knows other parents who have to travel over an hour to get to a program after transportation was cut or, worse, quit their jobs when they lost a spot. But “if sequestration continues, Head Start will cut families like me.”
That would devastate her family. Raya’s speech and development impediments were discovered in Head Start, and the program provides free services to help her with them. “Head Start has been a blessing for my family and I,” Collier told ThinkProgress. Her daughter is one of five children, two of which also graduated from Head Start and are now in the fifth and seventh grades.
The program was also very helpful when Collier lost her job. Without it, she might not have been able to find a new one. And she probably wouldn’t be able to keep her current position if Raya weren’t going back to her program. “It’s not like there are other affordable places for Raya to go,” she said. “I know I wouldn’t be able to afford childcare with my salary.”
Next year could be completely different. The Head Start program her daughter attends was only able to avoid reductions because it won a one-time grant that allowed it to keep a classroom that would have otherwise been cut. Parents in Raya’s program likely stand to see cuts if sequestration isn’t reversed.
Meanwhile, the cuts have impacts in other ways. “Don’t think cuts weren’t felt deeply by the staff,” she said. “There are extra stresses on their faces every day.” Several positions were eliminated and the remaining teachers are picking up the extra work. “Unfortunately that rubs off on the children.”
That was confirmed by Nita Thompson, executive director of the Mississippi Head Start Association, and Ouida Foster Toutebon, executive director of Head Start of Rockland, Inc. in New York. Nita told the audience at CAP, “It’s difficult for the staff to function” with the cuts. Many have had to take on extra responsibilities like acting as a bus monitor, family services provider, or even part-time cook after those positions were eliminated, she said. “A teacher is supposed to teach,” she told ThinkProgress. “There are too many hats.”
On top of that, even those who have kept their jobs are “living in fear,” Toutebon said. While she was able to assure teachers that no cuts would be made this year, “I may not be able to reassure them anymore.”