Parents of children in Bartholomew County’s Head Start program gathered March 5 to participate in a lottery that would decide winners and losers.
The outcome of the game wasn’t at stake. Instead, it was the educational development of their children.
Human Services Inc. had to decide which 17 Head Start students no longer could participate in the program.
The reason? Sequestration, the federally mandated, across-the-board spending cuts enacted March 1 that have affected a variety of agencies and their programs.
Head Start is a 100 percent federally funded preschool program for children ages 3 to 5 from lower-income families. It prepares children for kindergarten by teaching them about letters, numbers, sounds, shapes and colors.
The local Head Start region serves six counties: Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson, Johnson and Shelby. Human Services has 83 children in its Head Start classes.
Mandated cuts forced Human Services to trim 20 percent of its students from Head Start classes in Bartholomew County. The children must leave the program by April 1.
That put Human Services in the difficult position of deciding who stays and who goes.
Thus, the lottery — an emotional wringer for parents; elation for some, disappointment for others — because of what the outcome meant.
Those children who leave Head Start are more likely to start kindergarten behind other children who have participated in preschool programs.
That sets a dangerous tone for a child’s educational development during the formative years.
One kind mother understood the implications and made the generous decision to forfeit the spot her child had won because she thought another family needed it more.
More student cuts were concentrated in Bartholomew and Johnson counties because more alternative preschool programs exist in these communities, a Head Start official said. But finding an opening in another preschool program or one that is affordable can be a challenge, particularly for a family of limited income.
Human Services will have to go through another lottery in April when it has to cut 12 students from its Early Head Start home-based program. Early Head Start is for children up to age 3.
Considering children’s educations and futures are at stake, it is disappointing that an across-the-board cut approach was taken instead of reviewing each program’s worth and making selective cuts.
Not all programs are equal, and the impacts of each cut aren’t equal — especially the impact of education on young children.
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