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Head Start cuts could have long-term consequences

Anyone trying to make ends meet might make significant cuts to get their house in order, but the need to be judicious always remains paramount.

You wouldn't stop changing the oil in your car because it likely would lead to severe engine damage and a greater expense down the road.

You wouldn't stop getting regular checkups from the doctor because an untreated illness likely would fester and cost more to treat later.

In a sense, however, our leaders in Washington are making a similar mistake when it comes to Head Start and Early Head Start, the proven early education programs that not only lift up preschoolers but lend purpose to those parents.

Under the guidance of executive director Louis Finney, Hillsborough County's Head Start program is nationally recognized. But it had to endure a 5 percent cut of $1.4 million on March 1, resulting in the elimination of playgrounds at four locations.

The cut also suspended a vehicle purchase and construction projects, reduced bus services, eliminated a planned teacher training and resulted in the loss of a full-time employee at the Lutheran Services Florida Early Head Start program.

According to Andresea Jackson, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Head Start Policy Council, the cuts will grow more severe if Congress doesn't create a final resolution that modifies the sequestration.

The cuts may even lead to some children being pushed out of the program, a program that already has a waiting list of more than 1,000.

"One child losing a slot in the fall is not acceptable," Jackson wrote in an email after the council met with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, last week.

Imagine the at-risk child who enters a kindergarten without the aid of Head Start. When the teacher asks, "How many of you can count to 10?" Hands shoot into the air, but the unprepared child remains silent. The scene repeats itself when she asks the students about the alphabet, their address and tying their shoes.

The unprepared child wonders what's wrong with him and why he doesn't possess the same skills as his peers. Maybe he lashes out and becomes a behavior problem.

By third grade, he's unable to read at his grade level and on a path of underachievement and inferiority — a path experts say will likely lead to an incarceration and possibly life as a career criminal, costing tax payers millions.

It's clear that Head Start is not an expense to be eliminated, but an investment to be heightened. And remember, because Head Start offers parenting classes, marriage counseling and requires its parents to either maintain a job or pursue higher education, it strengthens families.

"President Obama is trying, reaching out to members in Congress," said Castor, who also expressed disappointment about National Institutes of Health grant cuts impacting Moffitt Cancer Center.

"We've made enormous cuts already. We can't make cuts that harm our economic future."

The phrase "unintended consequences" keeps coming to mind. No one underestimates the debt and deficit problems facing our nation, but the idea is to make matters better, not worse.

Cuts to Head Start without careful consideration of the impact will leave this county and the nation dealing with unwelcome problems easy to conceive but difficult to solve.

Head Start is the ounce of prevention we would be wise to maintain.

That's all I'm saying.

Head Start cuts could have long-term consequences

04/04/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 3:28pm]
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