Everett Head Start program a victim of budget cuts

EVERETT — A Head Start preschool program that has served kids in north Everett since the early 1970s shut down this week, a victim of the federal budget sequestration and its resulting funding cuts.

The closure leaves nearly 40 children from low-income families without the program, which aims to ease their way into elementary school. Four full- and three part-time Head Start employees lost their jobs.

Dana Connolly, executive director of Head Start in Snohomish County, was informed March 1, after Congress failed to pass a budget, that she would have to eliminate about 5 percent or more than $300,000 from her annual expenses. The amount was equal to the cost of running the Head Start program in north Everett, Connolly said.

On Monday, the North County Head Start in Everett was closed and the school signs removed from the building leased by the program.

“I have found that lots of people don’t really understand that the sequester is really happening,” Connolly said. “The signs coming down from the school in Everett provide a graphic representation of what sequestration is about for communities. In that north Everett area, more than 37 percent of children are from low-income families who often cannot afford to pay for preschool.

“People might say, well, this is only 40 kids, but many of these children will enter kindergarten unprepared for school. And it doesn’t get any better. The gap between poor children and those with advantages just gets bigger.”

More than 520 toddlers and preschool children attend Head Start in Snohomish County, Connolly said. The Head Start experience has been shown to make a difference in the lives of kindergarten students, according to a study commissioned by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Necole Fire, a Lynnwood mother of a former Head Start student, said she is sad for the parents of children who might have gone to Head Start in north Everett.

“It’s such a wonderful program with great opportunities for children and their parents,” Fire said. “My son came out of Head Start 100 percent ready for kindergarten.”

Young children who would have attended the preschool might be able to enter the Early Childhood Assistance Program housed at Everett Community College.

Some spots are open, said program manager Barbara Scienski. “We have been anticipating an increase in enrollment,” she said.

The state’s Early Childhood Assistance Program can be found in other areas of north Snohomish County, Connolly said. In south county, however, all that is available for low-income families is Head Start.

Schools are located in Monroe, south Everett, Lynnwood and Edmonds.

“Head Start is really more than a preschool,” Connolly said. “We are committed to an educational experience for these kids. Head Start is four hours a day, four days a week. When poor children without preschool enter elementary, it puts a lot more pressure on those teachers in the primary grades.”

Head Start had its beginnings in 1965 as part of the federal “War on Poverty.” The goal since then has been to boost readiness for school among children from low-income families. Along with preschool education, the program offers medical, dental and nutritional help, as well as education for young parents.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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