If a furloughed employee at a federal government office in Chicago isn’t back on the job by Nov. 1, Head Start Director Allyson V. Lee will have to discontinue preschool for 1,517 Summit County children.
The last time Lee spoke to her contact in the Midwest regional office was the Friday before the government shutdown on Oct. 1. Attempts made since then to check on the application status for November funding have been futile.
“Every time I email her now,” Lee said, “I get an ‘out of office’ reply.”
Each month the government shutdown continues, another stack of applications for federal Head Start funding goes unattended. Unapproved October applications have resulted in 19,000 children, most in Florida, losing access to Head Start.
Eleven programs in Ohio are now at risk of closure in November, including 1,517 children spread throughout Summit County’s 13 Head Start locations.
Preschool education has been proven to be the most important factor in the success of a disadvantaged child throughout the rest of his or her education. Equally important is that parents often use school time for part-time work.
There’s a silver lining of sorts, but not for those who may lose their Head Start seats.
As the federal shutdown looms, $9.94 million in competitive grants awarded by the Ohio Department of Education on Wednesday will open 2,484 slots statewide for preschool programs run by county educational service centers, chartered nonpublic schools, joint vocational programs and school districts.
However, they won’t be open to those left homeless by a Head Start shutdown, the number is small, and in Summit County, Akron will receive all of the money.
School district boundaries were used to distribute the competitive grant to help the neediest students — determined by reviewing kindergarten readiness scores, literacy in third grade and higher concentrations of economically disadvantaged students.
A big winner
Akron, the only grant winner in Summit County, received $628,000 — the largest amount among 145 Ohio recipients. About $1 million went to the Cleveland area, with most going to private preschools and charter schools and the Cleveland municipal school system receiving only $168,000 of that.
“Akron City was awarded these 157 slots because it is an existing Early Childhood Education grantee, which means it already provides high-quality preschool services, meets high program standards, and could serve the 157 children immediately,” said Stephanie Siddens, director of the Office for Early Learning and School Readiness at the Ohio Department of Education.
“We know the dollars we spend at the pre-kindergarten level will come back to us a thousand-fold when these kids move through kindergarten and up through the grade levels. It’s just giving them the start they need,” said Patricia Cronin, coordinator for Akron schools’ Early Learning Program.
Akron provides 424 pre-kindergarten children at 10 elementary schools with about 2.5 hours, or a half-day, of preschool.
Any Akron parent interested in one of the 157 new seats should call Melissa Milford, family services specialist, at 330-873-3396.
But as for Head Start families, the rules say: “These funds need to be used to provide preschool to economically disadvantaged children who are not currently receiving, or are not eligible to receive, preschool services from other local, state or federally funded preschool programs.”
That includes the 1,517 Head Start students in Summit County who may be denied service because of the shutdown.
“That is a dilemma because I would love to help students who are not being served,” Cronin said, noting there are at least 157 students in Akron who lack access to preschool.
The potential shutdown follows reductions in programming that already occurred due to federal sequestration. Summit County Head Start had to eliminate 93 seats and the state 2,782, and those seats can’t be restored unless the federal government fully restores funding.
Growing waiting lists
That caused the waiting lists to grow.
Among those on the list are two of Terri Nurse’s grandchildren. A third grandchild, 4-year-old Ty-von, is in the Five Points I Head Start on West Exchange Street, and could be among those without a program if the funding dries up.
“It would be detrimental not only to my grandson and his learning, but it also would hurt the household because then his mother couldn’t work,” said Nurse, a volunteer at the Exchange Street Head Start and a Kenmore resident.
Nurse’s daughter, now 23 and employed at a local restaurant, clocks just under 30 hours a week — the minimum for employer-provided health care. Her hours slimmed about four months ago, cutting her take-home pay.
The child’s father also works during the day, leaving the care of Ty-von to the boy’s grandmother or Head Start.
Nurse said her family is supportive, but if Head Start closes, they’re in a tough situation. They can’t afford a baby sitter for those hours, and if someone quits working during that time, they can’t pay utility bills or put food on the table.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.