For 36 lucky children, Head Start isn’t ending this week.
The Schenectady Foundation interceded Monday to give Schenectady Head Start the amount of money that the federal government unexpectedly cut this month.
The wide-ranging cuts — known as a sequester — include 5 percent reductions in funding to all Head Start programs. It has forced some agencies to make large cuts because they were already in the middle of their funding year, with little time left to make up the money they needed to cut.
At Schenectady Head Start, for 3- and 4-year-olds, making up 5 percent this late in the year required big cuts. Schenectady Community Action Program Executive Director Debra Schimpf broke the news to 36 sets of parents, telling them they had to find other child care programs by April 1. All of their children had to be out of Head Start by then.
“They were upset. Shocked,” Schimpf said.
She also told five staffers that she would have to lay them off.
And then the Schenectady Foundation called.
The foundation offered $65,000 to pay for all 36 children to stay in Head Start for the rest of the school year.
Foundation Executive Director Robert Carreau said the foundation wanted to support Head Start because of its record in improving poor children’s pre-kindergarten literacy.
“To us, having had these kids in this program all the way through March and just have them arbitrarily cut off seemed kind of pointless,” he said.
He added that the funding cut was essentially “pulling the rug out from underneath them.”
And he worried about how their parents would find last-minute child care, particularly since Head Start is free.
“Those 36 families are going to be looking for some kind of child care,” he said. “Where will they go? How will they pay for it? Is it even available?”
But he stressed that the foundation cannot afford to fund Head Start indefinitely.
“This is the government’s responsibility,” he said. “We’re all hopeful this situation will get resolved, politically. In the meantime, we in the community will do everything we can.”
Schimpf said that if the cuts continue through September, she will cut 36 slots from the Head Start roll. That won’t kick out children, but will prevent new children from enrolling.
“We need there to be a solution, hopefully before September,” she said.
But she added that she’s all too aware of other Head Start agencies that need help now.
“While we’ve been very fortunate to have the Schenectady Foundation, other communities don’t,” she said. “We’re really standing with the other agencies.”