Head Start programs across the nation are losing 57,000 seats as a result of the sequester. In this photo, young children arrive by bus to a Head Start school in Woodbourne, New York . (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Latinos among those hit the hardest by Head Start cuts

Mary Capello is President and CEO of the Texas Migrant Council, an organization under the Migrant Head Start Association umbrella. Their program is one of the top ten largest in the nation but couldn’t escape the hardships striking Head Starts everywhere. They had to get rid of 338 slots and cut spending by $4 million. But that’s not all, Capello says. The school day will now end two hours earlier and the summer term will end two weeks early.

“Now parents are having to sit down and make hard decisions about what they are going to do, when they are going to work, how they are going to take care of their kids. They have to find an alternative,” she says.

But the biggest example of cuts to the Head Start program came in the latest numbers released today by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) More than 57,000 children will be cut from Head Start because of the ongoing federal budget cuts known as sequestration. The federal pre-kindergarten education program helps tens of thousands of low income families across the nation get access to early learning programs, day care, and medical care among other services. The cuts have slashed over $400 million from the programs $8 billion budget.

RELATED: Low income preschool students threatened under sequestration

In addition to cutting back on the number of available seats, some programs are making the school day shorter while others are eliminating medical screenings.

The latest numbers are based on the results of the “reduction plans” Head Start grantees submitted to HHS. Though the initial administration projection of 70,000 lost seats was even worse than today’s report, education policy experts still foresee a major impact on the youngest and most vulnerable Latino students and their families.

Some of the biggest cuts come to areas with very high concentrations of Hispanic enrollment in Head Start Programs. California took the biggest hit with 5,611 Head Start kids being denied a place in the program. According to the California Head Start Association, Latinos make up 73.31 percent of all Head Start students. In Texas, where Hispanic students account for 68 percent of the Head Start student body, 4,410 kids were unable to get a seat.

According to Alicia Criado, economic policy associate with the National Council of La Raza, Latinos account for one in three Head Start preschoolers nationally. She calls the losses to the program “alarming.”

RELATED: Opinion: The sequester will disproportionately impact Latinos

“We know that the Latino youth population is quickly growing, so for us, we believe that programs like Head Start are a critical and necessary investment,” she says.

While early education is the key benefit for many Head Start students, Criado believes that cutting other services will only make life even harder for families struggling to provide for their kids and make ends meet.

“Not only is it an educational investment, but a lot of health services that parents are not able to access are available in Head Start programs. Sometimes they provide the only meal that children will eat all day,” she says.

Cleo Rodriguez, Executive Director of the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association, has watched his Head Start program have to tighten its belt over the years. Now, he says it’s tougher to run the program than ever before. He says he’s had to “cut back on employment opportunities” for staff, including less hours

%d bloggers like this: