Tuesday morning, 4-year-old Madison began her Headstart class with lunchtime – a turkey sandwich, half a banana and a handful of carrots. It’s a snack she and her 17 classmates are used to getting at the start of every day at the Hamilton Early Learning Center – but that may not always be the case.
Local children’s programs like the one Madison attends are struggling to address a loss of funds as the school year approaches. Headstart is a national early education program offered to children from low-income families. It was one of several programs hit with funding cuts as a result of the federal sequester triggered earlier this year.
Those funding cuts are being felt locally. According to Jim Vermeul, executive director of the local Headstart program, classrooms in the Coulee Region lost $140,000 as a result of the sequester cuts.
“This is the first time in 45 years that the program has received this large of a cut,” Vermeul said. “It’s a big decision the program had to make. Do we cut staff salaries, or do we cut children in the program?”
The decision reached is one that involves a little of both. Headstart teachers will receive six more furlough days during an already shortened school year, and Hamilton’s morning class was cut altogether from the program.
Vermeul acknowledged it was a tough decision, a sentiment that Hamilton Headstart teacher Elizabeth Janvrin echoed.
"18 families, 18 children that are not able to go to field trips, not able to have group times, that many more times they're not read to," Janvrin said of the lost class.
While the Coulee Region program will lose 18 children, nationwide numbers of students no longer able to participate in Headstart will reach 57,265 this year. About 18,000 employees will either take a pay cut or lose their jobs. Nationally, the Headstart program lost more than $405 million in funding,
Headstart classrooms in the Coulee Region receive about 95 percent of their funding from the national program.