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Preschool programs cut

Aug. 29, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

IRONTON -- More than 30 preschoolers in Lawrence County won't participate in Head Start programs this year as a result of automatic federal spending cuts due to sequestration.

"We had to close two preschool classrooms, one in Deering and one in Hanging Rock," said Sharon Daniels, director of the Head Start program administered by the Ironton-Lawrence County Area Community Action Organization. The closure impacted two teachers, two aides, a bus driver and a family advocate, she said.

Head Start prepares 3- to 5-year-olds from low-income families for kindergarten and elementary school while offering families and children health, nutrition, education and social services.

The $237,000 in cuts were made in July, impacting programs this school year. Last year, the Head Start program faced another round of cuts that led Head Start officials to shut down programs eight days early.

The program generally runs for 128 days, but Head Start closed down its program last May after 120 days, Daniels said.

"It was a short-term solution last year," she said. Programs are scheduled 128 days this year, she said.

Statewide, more than 1,800 spots were cut from the Head Start program, according to The Associated Press. Hundreds more children in Ohio will lose opportunities to participate in the programs that provide health care and other benefits besides early education.

Federal figures released earlier this month estimated that about 2,800 Ohio children will not be getting services this year.

More cuts to the Head Start program could result due to budget battles in Washington, D.C., this fall.

"Early education programs have had bi-partisan support for years," said D.R. Gossett, executive director of the community action organization. "These cuts are affecting real people. We have been blessed to have this program over the years. Nationwide, it's a challenge. I am concerned."

Despite the cuts, Daniels and her staff are doing an exceptional job, Gossett said.

The Head Start program serves about 377 3- to 5-year-olds, and 120 are involved in early Head Start from birth to age 3. The 31 preschoolers who faced cutbacks had the option of being put on a waiting list.

"We always have a waiting list," Gossett said. About 80 are on a waiting list for Head Start programs and about 45 are seeking early Head Start programs. As a result of cutbacks and the waiting list, Lawrence County has seen an increase in its daycare programs, he said. About 214 are participating in daycare programs at four sites in Lawrence County.

The cost of the daycare service is $110 per week for preschoolers, $115 per week for toddlers and $125 per week for babies.

While Head Start programs are federally funded, daycare programs have to be paid for by parents and guardians.