By Devon Grayson-Wallace
In the coming school year, 57,000 children will lose access to Head Start, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ official impact report published this week. Fewer children will lose access than originally predicted, but only because HHS made the difficult decision to reduce the quality of the service for every child in order to serve more children next year. Head Start programs around the country shortened the number of days they will provide services, shortened school days, and laid off or reduced the salaries of 18,000 employees. Even with those drastic reductions, 3,847 young kids in my home state of New York won’t be able to go to their preschool this year. The tale is heart-wrenching.
When I was 3, I spent every day at work with my mother – a luxury most parents and children will never know. Not only did my mom not have to worry about childcare, but because she worked for the YMCA children’s program I attended high quality education for three years before I started first grade. While I cannot quantify the ways this helped me throughout my life, I learned how to read, multiply small numbers, and share my toys with strangers before my official schooling began.
Cutting education for the nation’s young children violates our responsibility to take care of one another and undermines one of the most important investments we can make in the youth of today. Everyone in the country benefits when kids start their education off in a program like Head Start. A variety of research indicates that every public dollar spent on high quality early education can return seven dollars to the country later, in increased productivity and savings on public assistance and criminal justice programs.
Preschoolers aren’t the only students facing cuts due to sequestration. Three-quarters of public school superintendents reported that they would be forced to make staff cuts averaging five positions per school district. In Florida, one county is no longer busing 2,300 low-income children to school, leaving them to find alternative transportation. In Tennessee, officials estimate 1,660 college students who need tuition assistance could lose theirs, and 720 students who earn money through work-study could lose their jobs. These are just a few of the many stories our friends at the Coalition on Human Needs have gathered to demonstrate sequestration’s impact on communities across the country.
Sequestration is disproportionately harming critical programs like Head Start, while the very department that could most afford to have its budget cut has been given disproportionate media attention – the Pentagon.
It was constantly reported in the media that Pentagon contractors would face a “doomsday scenario” under sequestration. However, this has not happened, as even the small contractors have seen their profits rise. For example, Anaren Inc., a small contractor based in East Syracuse, New York, that makes military radar technology originally estimated that sequestration would keep their sales from increasing more than 5 percent. Instead, Anaren’s President Larry Sala now expects the company will see profits rise 10 percent. They are not the only Pentagon contractor to admit they aren’t suffering under sequestration. Bruce Tanner, Lockheed Martin’s chief financial officer, recently told analysts, “We’ve seen less impact from sequestration, writ large, than we expected to through this part of the year…The Pentagon has done a fairly masterful job kind of deflecting” cuts to weapons programs. The Pentagon has taken the reprehensible path of cutting civilian salaries instead of those weapons programs, even though many are wasteful and ineffective.
The contrast between children losing their preschool classes and Pentagon contractors unexpectedly unchanged profit margin exemplifies the injustice of sequestration.
These are the wrong choices for our communities and our nation. That is why we all need to keep reminding our members of Congress: sequestration must be replaced with a responsible alternative that makes significant cuts to Pentagon spending, includes revenue positive tax reform, and protects funding for critical human needs investments like Head Start.