SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — A summer day at Head Start small children squeal and play in one classroom, while just a few doors down, toddlers quietly eat lunch.
For the upcoming school year, more than 200 Western Mass kids won’t get to have this opportunity.
Maria Rodriguez has come full circle with the program, entering when she was a child; it became crucial once she had her son.
“I wouldn’t have been able to finish school if it wasn’t for Head Start. My husband was working, I was going to school, we were paying full childcare which was a burden for us,” Rodriguez says.
Head Start was formed in 1965, as part of then President Johnson’s War on Poverty, meant to give kids born into low-income households a quality early childhood education.
In March, across the board federal budget cuts forced Springfield’s Head Start to slash $500,000 from its budget.
“Locally in Massachusetts, about 1,500 less children will be served, and as I say, in my 40 years, we’ve never had this large a cut,” said Executive Director Janis Santos.
“We’re able to accommodate all the children who are returning to us in the fall. We had a number of children who are kindergarten bound. It will really mean that we won’t be able to enroll 200-plus new children and families,” Director of Community Engagement, Nicole Blais added.
Springfield and Holyoke have the highest rate of child poverty in the state, which is why Head Start is doing all they can to lessen the blow of the sequester cuts.
“Early on, we put in a hiring freeze we also decided to close early this past school year, and we’re going to open 2 weeks later early on this fall,” adds Blais.
Santos says that the program needs to keep legislators aware of how the cuts are affecting children.
One million children across the country are enrolled in Head Start. Due to the cuts, 70,000 fewer children will be served.