Massachusetts Fair Share

We stand up for a Massachusetts where everyone gets a fair shot, does and pays their fair share, and plays by the same rules.

Head Start advocates fight for restoration of $1 million in Massachusetts funding cuts

In 2013, 5,000 Massachusetts Fair Share members called for the restoration of cuts to the Head Start program — cuts that were restored. But with a budget shortfall here in Massachusetts, these programs are once more under the ax.

Via the Springfield Republican:

BOSTON — The Boston Head Start program could close its classroom doors a week early this year due to budget cuts by Gov. Charlie Baker. In Western Massachusetts, Head Start expects to absorb the cut through classroom supplies.

Advocates for the pre-school program for low-income children are asking Baker and state legislators to restore $1 million in funding that Baker cut in February. On Monday, members of the state legislature’s Boston delegation plan to deliver a letter to Baker asking him to reconsider the cuts.

“This program is much too valuable to be handled this cavalierly,” said John Drew, president/CEO of Action for Boston Community Development, which administers Head Start in Boston and Malden.

Last month, Baker, a Republican, made $145 million in executive branch cuts, referred to as 9C cuts, as part of a plan to fill an estimated $768 million budget gap.

Grants to Head Start programs were cut by $1 million, dropping their state funding for the 2015 fiscal year, which began in July, from $9.1 million to $8.1 million. That put their funding back at the same level it was in fiscal year 2014.

Head Start is primarily a federally funded program, but the state has contributed money since 1986. Janis Santos, executive director of Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, who has worked for Head Start for 42 years and advocated for the state funding in 1986, said the state money was intended to increase teachers’ salaries because it had been difficult for Head Start to attract and retain quality teachers.

Today, an entry-level teacher with a bachelor’s degree in the Springfield area still earns just $28,400 a year, and the pay in Boston is similar. The Massachusetts Head Start Association said the average annual salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $25,000.

Former Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, did not touch Head Start when he made his own unilateral budget cuts in November. Asked why Baker chose to cut Head Start, Dominick Ianno, chief of staff to Secretary of Administration and Finance Kristen Lepore, said in an emailed statement, “The administration is pleased that Democratic leaders in the House and Senate passed House Bill 52, the proposed legislation to close the Fiscal Year 2015 budget gap, which protected local aid without burdening taxpayers.”

Though the Legislature passed a bill that included aspects of Baker’s budget balancing plan, the Head Start cut did not require legislative approval.

There are 29 Head Start programs, which provide early education and family support services to 14,000 poor children in Massachusetts. To qualify, a family of three must earn $20,000 or less a year.

On Feb. 4, the day after Baker announced the budget cuts, the Massachusetts Head Start Association asked Baker to reverse his decision.

“This cut, representing one-fifth of the entire cut to the Department of Early Education and Care, and seven months into the fiscal year, provides a significant blow to the children enrolled in programs that have incorporated these monies into the fabric of their infrastructure,” the advocates wrote. They wrote that the cut could lead to Head Start closing classrooms, reducing staff or ending programs earlier this year.

Boston, the state’s biggest Head Start, will lose around $250,000 out of an approximately $20 million budget. Before the cut, the state’s contribution would have been around $1.9 million. Drew said if the cut were made at the beginning of the fiscal year, he could have planned for it. Mid-year, the money is already being spent.

“This money was given to us in the budget. I have a contract for it,” Drew said.

Drew said he is considering closing Head Start classrooms a week or two early, despite the headache it will cause parents. “If they don’t rescind that, I’ll probably have to shut down some parts of the operation earlier and lay people off,” Drew said.

Though teachers got a slight raise this year, Drew said it is not fair to cut their pay now. “We don’t have any good solutions,” Drew said.

Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, the second biggest program in the state, will lose approximately $72,000 out of a budget of $650,000.

According to Nicole Blais, a spokeswoman for HCS Head Start, state funding pays for the education of 54 children in three classrooms, along with some staff salaries and benefits.

The organization will also lose another $25,000 due to a $1 million cut Baker made to a Coordinated Family and Community Engagement program, which pays for services for low-income parents of young children and for some programs for early educators.

Santos said her Head Start does not expect to close early or lay off staff. They will most likely cut classroom supplies and equipment.

“We’re going to be able to maintain the number of children we serve as well as keep the classrooms open and staffed, but we have to look elsewhere to try to make cuts,” Santos said.

Santos said as the head of a program that relies on public funding, she is used to dealing with budget cuts. “You just never know what’s going to come your way with a new administration,” she said.

Head Start advocates are lobbying Baker to rescind the cuts and are asking the Legislature to use a supplemental budget to restore the money.

Members of the Boston legislative delegation warned in their letter to Baker that some Head Start programs could close classrooms. “Closing Head Start locations will have a severe, negative impact on the development of the low-income children and families in inner-city neighborhoods and rural counties served by those programs. Equally important, teachers and staff members will be out of work and working parents will face increasing costs of child care,” the lawmakers wrote. They wrote that the Legislature increased Head Start funding by $1 million this year to boost the salaries of chronically underpaid teachers.

“The increase passed by the legislature was intended to correct years of Recession Era cuts to the line item that caused early childhood education programs statewide classrooms to close and teachers and staff to be laid off,” they wrote.

Pam Kuechler, executive director of the Massachusetts Head Start Association, said she is still collecting information from individual Head Start programs and does not yet know how programs statewide will deal with the cuts. The association is also talking to the Baker administration.

“We’re just continuing to have open communication with the department and hoping things could be mitigated,” Kuechler said.

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One comment on “Head Start advocates fight for restoration of $1 million in Massachusetts funding cuts

  1. Pingback: The Baker Budget: Cat’s Take | Massachusetts Fair Share

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This entry was posted on March 4, 2015 by in early education.
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