On March 11, a news conference was held at Catholic Charities St. Jerome’s Head Start. The topic was the impact the passing of House Resolution 1 will have on funding for Head Start programs.
The Senate’s rejection of the House’s $1.1 billion federal budget cut led Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin to host the event to rally support for the early childhood education program for low-income children and their families and to show the consequences of lost funding.
Joining the Senators as advocates were Catholic Charities of Baltimore Executive Director William J. McCarthy, Jr.; Mary Gunning Director of St. Jerome’s Head Start; Amy Collier, Administrator of Catholic Charities of Baltimore Head Start and Early Head Start Programs; Nadine Burton-Owens, Executive Director of the Maryland Head Start Association; Tommy Sheridan, Legislative Assistant to the National Head Start Association and Head Start parent Menita Parson.
Welcoming those in attendance, St. Jerome’s Director Mary Gunning drew attention to what was at stake. “If our elected officials decide to cut Head Start funding, it will mean close to 2,400 Maryland children and their families will lose access to Head Start services, more than 500 jobs will be lost, and at least 170 classrooms will be left empty,” she said. “At the end of the day, Congress needs to realize that Head Start results extend far beyond the classroom and also lead to a safer, more advanced and more economically stable America.”
At St. Jerome’s eight sites, 258 children are enrolled. Gunning said, “Head Start advocates for the entire family,” providing a myriad of services. The diverse workshops have ranged from how to apply for medical insurance, preventing childhood obesity, and how to qualify for homeownership. In addition, the program has been a resource for employment with 62% of the staff being comprised of former Head Start parents.
“Head Start is a one-stop shop that helps get our kids ready for kindergarten through 12,” Senator Mikulski said, adding that research shows that children do better academically with prevention and pre-prevention measures.
While the senator said that she understood the need for fiscal responsibility she believed that 12% of the budget should not be balanced at the expense of children and women. Two examples she gave of where expenses could be cut were ethanol and farmer subsidies.
Current Head Start parent Menita Parson credited the program with improving the social and academic skills of two daughters who have graduated from the program and her youngest daughter who is currently enrolled. “Because of what my children learned in Head Start, they have had an advantage over many of their peers and love learning,” she said.
Another benefit of the program has been Parson’s continued involvement in the education of her children. She is on the policy committee for Maryland’s Head Start; the policy council at St. Jerome’s; the advocacy committee and the PTO secretary at Alexander Hamilton Middle School.
An interaction with the St. Jerome’s students as they reviewed a lesson and sang a song, led Senator Ben Cardin to comment on his observation. “Head Start programs are an investment in our youngsters, proving that they can read better and their vocabulary is better and I just saw what they can do.”
With the Senate’s rejection of the bill, the House can decide whether or not to make changes.
“We are still negotiating and we are in a tough position,” said Cardin of the bill’s possibility of passing. He encouraged cutting earmarks, overheads, and stimulus money, but said that he was “against cuts that impact investing in our children, jobs, and future innovation.”