Martha’s Vineyard Head Start will lose two slots in its home-based preschool program because of the federal budget cuts known as sequestration.
The cuts are not as severe as what some other programs are experiencing statewide, but Debbie Milne, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Early Childhood program which runs Head Start here, said they will be felt nonetheless.
“It’s a huge hit to our program,” Ms. Milne told the Gazette.
Head Start is a federally-funded preschool program that gives children in low-income families an opportunity for early childhood education services before they attend kindergarten. Begun in 1965, it is one of the oldest social service programs to address poverty for families and children in the U.S. The program currently serves 42 families on the Island and has a waiting list.
Early last week the Boston Globe reported sweeping cuts to the program across the state, with 1,359 slots for children and 120 jobs eliminated next year. The cuts are the result of the across-the-board federal budget cuts that went into effect early this year.
The Vineyard program is losing $20,000 in funding through the cuts. Besides the loss of two slots, the program year will also be shortened, as previously announced, with the school year ending a month earlier and starting a month later.
“It’s a very valuable service that they won’t have for a full year,” Martha’s Vineyard Community Services executive director Juliette Fay said, noting that Community Services was lucky to sustain the program in some way.
Going into a new fiscal year, “We have to do all the same prerequisites with less money,” Ms. Milne said.
Requirements from before the budget cuts still apply, with 32 home visits and 16 socializations required for each family. For fiscal year 2015, the Vineyard Head Start program will do that with $20,000 less in federal funding.
“That is very problematic,” Ms. Milne said.
Because about half the families served by Head Start will be leaving for kindergarten, Ms. Milne said, no families will be cut from the program. But there will be two fewer families next year who can participate in the program.
But with center closures in other areas, the Vineyard program was spared the worst. “It’s been difficult but we’ve been able to do it without affecting the quality of the program,” Ms. Milne said, adding that the staff of six are “taking the brunt of it,” because they are working fewer hours but mandated to provide the same level of services.
Ms. Milne said there has been a lot of advocacy for reinstating the funding, but also called the cuts “a permanent reality . . . it’s more challenging. You can see it clearly how devastating the cuts were.”