Budget cuts to keep 730 children out of preschool this year

Head Start preschool programs in Connecticut will enroll 730 fewer children this school year, and many programs will be open fewer days as a result of federal government budget cuts, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday.

The 8 percent cut in the number of seats offered to low-income children age 5 and younger throughout Connecticut is not likely to be restored by the state government, the governor said Tuesday.

“We will fund all of the positions [the state] has funded. There will be no cutback,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said on WNPR’s Where We Live talk show Tuesday morning when asked if the state will make up for the cut.

Malloy pointed out that the state did provide an additional $50.7 million in state funding to districts this year for education, and that local leaders are free to spend that money to fill the gap that the federal budget reduction known as sequestration has caused.

“That’s done primarily on a district-by-district basis. They are dealing with that as we speak. Some of those districts are stepping in and making up the difference,” he said.

Almost 6,500 students — about one in five kindergarten students — showed up for kindergarten in the fall of 2011 having spent no time in a preschool, reports the State Department of Education. And in the state’s 19 poorest districts, participation rates in early education are much lower than in their neighboring districts.

The education department has estimated that it would cost the state $43.8 million a year for the state to offer universal preschool in the state’s poorest districts and millions more in one-time costs to build the facilities that would be needed. 

In an effort to move toward universal access to preschool, the state legislature and the governor spent millions expanding the number of children offered enrollment in state-funded preschool programs.

“That was a Herculean effort,” Malloy said.

But the 950 additional seats the state created have now been largely wiped out by the mandatory federal budget cuts.

Head Start programs across the state and country are handling their cuts differently. Some are reducing the number of children they enroll, while others are shaving the number of days they will be open, or eliminating teachers and increasing class sizes. HHS reports that, nationwide, 57,265 fewer children will be served this year and the centers will open 1.3 million fewer days. At least 18,000 staff will face pay cuts or job losses, HHS reports. See the state-by-state cuts here.