Federal cuts impact county Head Start

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Commissioners asked to make up budget shortfall

By Ramsey Scott

Jeffco's Head Start program could serve 400 fewer kids during the next school year as a result of across-the-board federal funding cuts known as sequestration.

The 5 percent budget cut would mean about $152,000 less for the county’s Head Start program. Lynn Johnson, Jeffco's human services director, said the cuts would mean laying off three teachers, and 96 fewer families — about 400 kids — would not be able to participate in the program during the 2013-14 school year.

Head Start serves preschool kids and their families through early-childhood development and connections to social and health services. The program receives 80 percent of its funding from the federal government.

Johnson last week asked the Jeffco commissioners for help in making up the $152,000 difference for the program through the end of the next school year.

Since the federal government's fiscal calendar starts July 1 — unlike the county's fiscal year, which starts Jan. 1 — the county has already funded its portion of the program through the end of the calendar year. The $152,000 would make up for the federal cuts in both the fall and spring semesters of the upcoming school year.

"I am trying to find other funding. My concern is if I cut it now, I have to cut with these families in January and put kids back in the middle of the school year," Johnson said.

Johnson said her office has been reaching out to municipalities and private groups to find additional funding since receiving notice of the cuts in May. She said she was optimistic that additional funding could be found through grants and private contributions.

Johnson said many families depend on the program and don’t want it to be diminished.

Head Start is an integral part of the Jeffco Prosperity Project, which works with low-income kids starting in Head Start and continuing through high school graduation.

"At the end of the day, if we get these kids to diploma and these families to full self-sufficiency in 10 years with only 30 percent of success, you're talking about 30,000 families being raised out of poverty. That will impact us in the long run," Johnson said. "We don't want to stop right now because the federal government doesn't run on the same budget cycle as we do."

The commissioners were supportive but encouraged Johnson to seek funding from cities as well as through grants and private donations. 

"I support (the request), but I don't know where we're going to find the money. We've got to do this," Commissioner Faye Griffin said. "This is one of those areas where we have to know (cuts like this) happen at any time."

Johnson said she would report back to the commissioners soon on fund-raising efforts for Head Start.

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.