By DANIELLE CURTIS
Staff Writer, Nashua Telegraph
May 5, 2013
HUDSON – The town’s Head Start preschool program will be shutting down after this school year, just one of the effects felt after a 5.2 percent cut in federal funding to the nationwide program because of sequestration.
“I’ve never seen a cut like this,” said Jeanne Agri, child development director for Southern New Hampshire Services. “It’s really hard. It’s very, very difficult.”
Agri manages the Head Start programs in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties, including those in Hudson and Nashua. Head Start programs around the state will feel the impact of the sequester cuts.
When sequestration went into effect earlier this year, many government-funded agencies felt the sting of the across-the-board budget cuts that came along with it.
Head Start programs are directly funded by the federal government. That funding amounted to about $4.3 million for all of New Hampshire’s programs in the current fiscal year.
SNHS provides Head Start services to 494 Head Start and 102 early Head Start children and families each year, serving families living in poverty. Agri, who has been working with Head Start since 1997, said the need for these programs has only increased in recent years as more and more middle-class families are dealing with job loss.
Agri said she has seen cuts of 1 percent in federal funds over the years, but that a 5.2 percent cut across the board will have serious impacts. For the Head Start programs managed by SNHS, it means a loss of $220,000 next year. Across the state, it means about $733,000 lost.
Still, Agri said her programs are some of the “fortunate” ones, since they don’t begin using 2013 funds until Aug. 1.
The various state programs are funded differently, she said, depending on which organization receives the federal Head Start grant and when it was awarded. Some programs are already using their 2013 money, and so are already feeling the cuts.
In Hillsborough and Rockingham counties, however, Head Start program directors and the families with children at the schools have had some time to plan.
Three classrooms in the two counties will be eliminated, meaning nine to 11 employees will lose their jobs. At the Hudson site being eliminated, about 18 children will need to find a different Head Start program.
The Hudson site currently teaches mostly 4-year-olds and a few 3-year-olds. While this year’s 4-year-olds won’t be affected because they’ll head to kindergarten next year, the 3-year-olds and other children expecting to use the program will no longer be able to.
Agri said determining which programs should close was no easy task, but was done over time, talking with families and reviewing enrollment data.
Agri said the SNHS board of directors and Head Start parent council groups reviewed the information, looking at which sites typically maintain a waiting list and which have struggled to enroll a sufficient number of students.
“Based on that data, it pointed to Hudson, Newmarket and the Seacoast as the least neediest,” Agri said. “That’s not easy to say; it was a very painful decision. Poverty is poverty, it doesn’t matter where you live.”
SNHS will still recruit students from Hudson, Agri said, but they’ll have to attend one of the Head Start programs in Nashua.
Currently, the city is home to three Head Start classrooms and typically sees a waiting list for students each year.
But Agri said Hudson children will be given the same priority to attend the centers as Nashua children, with acceptance into the programs based on a family’s level of need. Students who would have attended the Hudson site for the second year next year will be given a higher priority than a student who hasn’t attended a Head Start program before, she said.
“The Hudson families are saddened by the idea of closing their center; they’ve grown attached to the center and the staff,” Agri said. “But they’ve been very supportive. This is not a place where we would typically want to be making cuts like this, but Congress didn’t call me up and ask my opinion.”
Sequestration is a 10-year plan of spending cuts, designed to help lower the nation’s deficit. And if Congress doesn’t come to a budget deal to stop the cuts from continuing in future years, Agri said she’s concerned more cuts will be made to Head Start programs.
“I just hope that people realize that the sequestration is being felt on the backs of the families, and to me, that is a really sad statement,” Agri said. “These are silent people. They need us to advocate for them. It’s just really sad.”
Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua telegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis on Twitter (@Telegraph_DC).
- Head Start shrinks as sequester takes effect (thegazette.com)
- Sequestration forces Head Start to close early, cut back (wbng.com)
- Children’s programs feeling effects of sequester (cltv.com)
- Head Start programs on edge as federal sequestration takes hold (komonews.com)