Central Missouri Community Action Head Start to accept fewer students after budget cuts

Friday, May 3, 2013 | 4:55 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — When Central Missouri Community Action's Head Start finalizes enrollment for its fall program this summer, it will accept 105 fewer children than in 2012-2013.

Head Start is an early childhood development program that helps children from low-income families get ready for kindergarten.

The Central Missouri program, reacting to about $300,000 in funding cuts due to the federal sequester, announced on Tuesday it will reduce enrollment at its centers, eliminate its partnership with Columbia Public Schools at Field School and transition some child services from classrooms to families’ residences.

When Congress failed to come up with a long-term national debt reduction plan by March 1, a series of automatic budget cuts came into play under sequestration. The budget, which went into effect Wednesday, will stay the same for 10 years unless Congress agrees on a new plan.

Darin Preis, Central Missouri Community Action director, said the program’s directors had to reduce the number of children the program can accept to maintain Head Start’s current level of quality.

"I said what are the things that have to stay and really looked at it from a quality perspective," he said. "It is critically important that we maintain a very high standard of quality for our Head Start programs."

Preis said this proved to be a challenge because demand for Head Start and Early Head Start has been increasing.

Nearly half of the cuts to the programs will occur in Columbia, which includes eliminating the Field School partnership. According to the Head Start 2013 Sequestration Plan, the children enrolled there will still have access to early childhood education under Title I.

Michelle Baumstark, Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman, said the district plans to take on the costs for these students through its preschool program. She said the district plans to hire two instructional aides to accommodate these students. 

Preis said fewer cuts were made in communities surrounding Columbia because families in rural communities lack alternative options for early childhood education.

"There are a lot of people struggling and who are economically instable, and those are the families that will fall through the cracks as federal funding gets reduced," he said. "Demand is very high, and we normally have a wait list that’s almost as many kids as we serve."

The federally mandated cuts to early childhood education come after President Barack Obama, in his 2013 State of the Union address, proposed preschool for all 4-year-old children from families with incomes below twice the federal poverty rate  — currently, $47,100 for a family of four with two children.

Obama said fewer than three in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality preschool, because the private programs can cost a few hundred dollars a week.

Preis said the cuts to publicly funded Head Start represent the opposite of what should happen.

"It stings. It's wrong," he said. "Everybody agrees that this should be a priority, yet we’re cutting funding for it. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Pamela Beerup, development manager for Central Missouri Community Action, said the organization will partner with local sponsors to raise money for Head Start and Early Head Start.

Lunafest, a film festival scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at The Blue Note, 17 N. Ninth St., is the first of these endeavors. Tickets are $15 dollars and $10 for students.

"We have to rethink our funding makeup, because with the federal sequester, we have so much money being cut from our programs we have to make it up somewhere," Beerup said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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