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Guest column/Don’t balance budget on children

August 19, 2012
By BARBARA HAXTON , The Herald-Star

There is a lot of talk in our nation's capitol about the pending sequestration of nondefense discretionary programs. That talk is 'Washington budget speak' for hacking away at the country's budget deficit by imposing a $109 billion, across-the-board spending cut that will kick in Jan. 2.

The day after we ring in the New Year, many domestic programs will experience staggering budget cuts, all of which will be jammed into the nine remaining months of the fiscal year.

As executive director of the Ohio Head Start Association, I am aware these cuts will be particularly devastating to the poor children and families Head Start serves in Ohio. Each year Head Start offers nearly one million of our country's most vulnerable children access to quality early education, health screenings and support services during the critical window of opportunity from birth through age 5.

Sadly, the number of children and families slipping below the poverty line is growing and the need for quality early learning programs like Head Start and Early Head Start is exploding.

Nationally, 25 percent of American children under the age of 6 are living in poverty - that's more than 6 million children.

And just this week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a report showing that in 2010 23.1 percent of Ohio's children were living below the federal poverty level. A report released in May of 2011 by the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, titled the State of Poverty in Ohio, indicates that a year later, over 26 percent of Ohio's children under 5 are living in poverty. These are children who will never be able to catch up in life unless they receive the support and opportunities offered by a program like Head Start.

Despite these escalating poverty figures, the sweeping spending cuts that sequestration mandates will mean nearly 100,000 poor children across this nation will lose their Head Start and Early Head Start slots ... right in the middle of the school year.

Here in Ohio, sequestration will mean nearly 4,000 children will be dropped from the Head Start and Early Head Start rolls because of funding cuts, and nearly 800 Head Start jobs will be lost because of these cuts.

These children will be left behind, and our nation cannot afford to lose one child to failure, let alone the thousands that will be affected by these cuts.

Head Start and other non-defense discretionary programs are collectively only 3.4 percent of the entire federal budget - and are not the cause of our growing debt.

Congress needs to act quickly on a balanced approach to restore fiscal stability that replaces the sequester and maintains funding for Ohio's at-risk children whose early preparation for a lifetime of success is being threatened.

(Haxton is executive director of the Ohio Head Start Association Inc., a nonprofit, 501(c)4 organization that depends upon contributions and donated funds to support state and federal advocacy efforts on behalf of at-risk children and their families. OHSAI provides training to Ohio Head Start providers. The organization works with members of state legislature and the Congressional delegation to advocate the benefits of the Head Start programs.)

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