Head Start funding increase welcomed locally

MARQUETTE – With a $1 billion boost in the proposed federal budget for Head Start programs across the nation and a $65 million investment by the state of Michigan in its early childhood education programming, the Alger-Marquette Community Action Board is feeling pretty optimistic about the year ahead.

“These early childhood programs are so wonderful and so important to our young children in preparing them for school and life, and (preparing) their parents, because they are who are going to care for these children the rest of their lives,” AMCAB Executive Director Earl Hawn said. “The more people we have exposed to this, the better off we are as a society.”

AMCAB facilitates both Head Start and Great Start Readiness programs in Marquette and Alger counties and was hit hard by sequestration cuts that forced Head Start programs nationwide to slash their budgets.

Hawn said the decision was made to cut the Head Start school year short by a few weeks to make up the difference in funding.

However, if the federal budget is approved, Hawn said Head Start will be able to remain on schedule, having not cut any teachers, student slots or days from its calendar.

“With sequestration, that would all be restored, which is really, really positive news for us,” Hawn said. “There’s also been some discussions about universal preschool and expanding the Head Start program, which we hope they do. Particularly, my hope is they change the eligibility, allowing more access by more children in our communities.”

Currently, AMCAB Head Start programs service 284 children.

On the state level, Michigan was recently reported to have had the single largest dollar and percentage increase on early childhood programs in the country at $65 million, something Gov. Rick Snyder lauded during Thursday’s State of the State address.

Snyder said he’d like to invest an additional $65 million, saying early childhood education was something he believed in.

“We shouldn’t have a wait for preschool,” Snyder said. “We’re going to make it a no-wait state for early childhood education.”

He also lauded the state’s Great Start Readiness program, which was recently acknowledged on a federal level as well.

Michigan is one of six states that will receive a portion of a $1 billion investment in early childhood education through President Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative. Michigan will receive $51.7 million.

Hawn said the original $65 million investment was a boon to young kids across the state.

“It was a very significant increase in the funding for 4-year-old preschoolers in the Great Start Readiness program,” Hawn said. “That was very significant as far as the number of children that could be served.”

In the 2012-2013 school year, AMCAB had 87 students participate in its Great Start Readiness program.

This school year, it has 102 students.

“(The investment) allowed us to work with more children,” Hawn said. “On the downside, it reduced the income eligibility for children. One of the things we’ve been advocating to the Legislature is return that income to where it was.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is jstark@miningjournal.net