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Indiana Head Start Programs Beginning To Drop Students From Rosters

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Playing at the sand table helps Head Start students at Eastview Elementary in Connersville develop fine motor skills.

Many Indiana Head Start programs will soon start cutting students from their rosters, a move many program directors hoped to avoid in the wake of automatic federal budget spending cuts.

Human Services Inc. held a much-publicized lottery last week to determine which students wouldn’t return to classrooms in Franklin and Columbus. The program needed to cut three dozen kids from its rolls.

“We wanted to be proactive because the budget cuts are retroactive for a program year,” Jeremy Wells, associate director of children’s services for Head Start in Columbus and Franklin, told the AP. “As of right now, we’re overspent.”

The White House estimates Indiana could lose as many as 1,000 Head Start slots, though program directors across the state say they’re committed to making the impact on students and families minimal. But even the most optimistic concede cuts are coming.

Geminus Head Start Director Karen Carradine says she’d rather let administrative staff go than eliminate programming for 1,500 students in Lake and Porter counties. But if comes to cutting kids, she says Geminus will wait until summer, when 5-year-olds age out of Head Start and go on to kindergarten.

But programs further along in their fiscal year than Geminus may not have the same luxury, says Cheryl Miller, executive director for the Indiana Head Start Association.

“If they started spending 2013-14 money in January of this year, they’ve already spent about three months of their money,” says Miller. “They’re going to have to take the total 5 percent cut out of what ends up being about 75 percent of their grant because they already spent some of the money before these cuts came down to them.”

To make up the deficit, Miller says many programs will close early this summer, some by as many as a month and a half. That leaves parents on the hook for childcare and could impact hourly workers like aides who will lose six weeks of wages but don’t qualify for unemployment.

Then there’s the possibility some communities will lose Head Start altogether. Even if a 5 percent cut only amounts to one classroom, Miller says it’s likely some programs will have to close down entire centers to save on overhead and facility fees.

“If I was going to have to speak to the kindergarten, first and second grade teachers at that elementary school where those children were going to go after Head Start,” says Miller, “I would tell them to prepare for the fact they’re going to have larger numbers of children coming in that have never had preschool.”

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