Head Start may lose 70,000 slots nationwide to sequester

GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - The affects of the federal sequester has trickled down to affect some of Mississippi's low income children. Head Start officials said they're afraid they could have to turn some families away.

The playground at the Gautier Head Start will be empty a lot more often in 2012. Instead of going to school 180 days, three and four-year-olds in the Jackson County Head Start program will only be at school learning for 167 days.

A message to parents was posted on the its website. "Due to the mandatory cuts from the Sequestration, Jackson County Head Start will be absorbing a five percent cut to the Head Start budget by reducing the number of operating days without cutting staff or children. To accomplish this, we will need to end school earlier than originally planned."

Other area Head Start programs are wondering what challenges they may have enrolling children for the next school year. John Guy is the director for Mississippi Action For Progress Region One which includes Hancock, Pearl River and Perry counties.

Guy said, "Thus far, the sequester has not impacted us at this particular point. But we do anticipate some potential cuts because the country is losing about 70,000 slots nationwide. How this is going to impact us as an agency, we don't know at this particular time."

Head Start officials said they also have no idea what formula the government when it starts reduce the slots or if the fact that Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the country will even be a consideration.

"What really hurts me is to see 70,000 children are going to be impacted," said Guy. "We provide free medical, dental, and mental health screenings. We close the gap between low income children and those with parents who are doing just fine."

Head Start officials in Harrison County said they don't need to make any last minute changes because they planned for a 160 day school year.

In anticipation of the five percent budget cut, officials say they have also reduced materials and field trips.

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