Head Start centers in Bradford County and Tioga County, Pa. are bracing themselves for a funding cut as a result of the budget sequestration.

In a prepared statement, Blair Hyatt, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Head Start Association (PHSA), "expressed the outrage of the Head Start community" over the the budget sequestration which has gone into effect. He said Head Start programs were told that they must implement a 5 percent cut to their funding.

Locally, Jody Thomas, Bradford-Tioga Head Start Director, said that the 5 percent cut to operation costs would mean at least $142,400 to the two-county program.

"We are waiting for guidance from the Office of Head Start for the areas of programming that are allowable to cut, but we are being told that we should expect to be serving less children," she stated in an email.

The Bradford-Tioga Head Start consists of 10 centers in the two counties. They are located in Canton, Troy, Athens, Blossburg, Elkland, Mansfield, Rome, Tioga, Wellsboro, and Wyalusing.

The proposed cuts would affect two programs, Head Start, for children 3-5 years old, and Early Head Start, for children from birth up to 3 years old.

When asked for comment by The Daily Review, Thomas said the funding cut would be "quite devastating."

She said it could result in a reduced number of days at the centers, decreased home visits, or less children and families served.

The Head Start centers are open for 128 days in the school year, Monday through Thursday, with the hours varying at each center.

Currently, she said, they are waiting for guidance from the Office of Head Start.

"We've done some brainstorming, but until we get that guidance, we can't react to anything," she said.

"The bottom line, it's children and families that will lose out," she commented.

Thomas said that there could be a "trickle effect" to the community, with the funding cut.

For example, she said, the centers provide lunch and snacks to the children, and with a funding cut, Head Start would not be buying as much food from grocery stores in the area, or as much cleaning or other supplies. Less fuel also could be purchased for Headstart's buses, with the cuts, she noted.

At the Troy Head Start, Laura Steele, a teacher for the Troy 1 Head Start, said that she was concerned about the cuts.

"I am afraid we won't be able to service as many children as we do now," she said. "We are going to try our best to keep the high-quality programs we have."

She was also concerned that the cuts might result in less staff members at Head Start.

There are "no good choices," she said.

Already, she said, Head Start - due to previous budget cuts not related to the sequestration - has decided to eliminate the Head Start Troy 1 morning bus in the fall, and a bus monitor position has already been cut.

Also, one bus route has been cut for next year in each of the Head Start centers in Elkland, Canton, and Mansfield, due to the previous budget cuts, Thomas added.

Headstart funding has not increased, though expenses have, she explained.

Steele noted that some of the children live as far as 25 minutes away from the Troy Headstart. Some live in Bentley Creek, Fassett, and Big Pond.

Faith Sonnema, who is a classroom aide at the Troy Head Start, has a son, Noam, 5, who has attended classes at the center since he was 3 years old. He said that he likes playing with his toys and drawing pictures.

Lauren Rider, a teacher at the Troy Head Start, said that attending Head Start has helped Noam with his socialization skills. When he first attended the center, she said, he talked little, but now he "talks all the time."

If he hadn't had the Head Start experience, she said, he probably would have "really struggled at kindergarten."

At the Wyalusing Head Start and Pre-K Counts, teacher Alicia Tennett said they are worried about the budget cuts.

"I think that eventually the budget cuts could mean people losing their jobs or it not being a program anymore," she said.

She noted that they are hoping for the best, and "trying to spend as little as we can, trying to do every little thing we can to not spend a lot of money, basically."

An employee at the Athens Head Start declined comment.

According to Thomas, federal funding for Bradford-Tioga Head Start is close to $2.3 million from Dec. 1, 2012 through Nov. 30. For Early Head Start in Bradford and Tioga counties, it's $550,000 for this same time period. Head Start in Bradford and Tioga counties has 120 employees, which includes positions such as teachers, teacher aides, family advocates, family partners, drivers, classroom aides, lunch aides/cooks, supervisors, and administrative staff.

Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 years old from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development, according to the Head Start website.

The website notes that Head Start programs provide a learning environment that supports children's growth in language and literacy, cognition and general knowledge, physical development and health, social and emotional development, and approaches to learning

Thomas said a conference call with the Office of Head Start is scheduled for next week, at which time she expects to get more information about the cut.

Thomas remains apprehensive.

"We're in a very challenging time right now."

Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; email: reviewtroy@thedailyreview.com.

Blair Hyatt, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Head Start Association (PHSA), expressed the outrage of the Head Start community, at the passing of the "Budget Sequestration" last Friday, March 1. On Friday, March 1, Head Start programs were informed they must implement a 5 percent cut to their funding.

Pennsylvania's federally funded Head Start programs serve more the 31,000 children and their families every year. We work with the state's most vulnerable children. Children who are most likely to struggle academically, children whose families are most likely to have few resources and support for their families. Head Start federal funding for Pennsylvania is over $232M.

The 5 percent cuts will remove move than $11.6M from Pennsylvania's economy. More 250 people will have to be laid off. This is not the time to withdraw this money from the economies of low income communities across Pennsylvania and increase unemployment.

The cuts to Head Start programs are not smart, targeted or effective in addressing the budget crisis. The cuts do little to help the federal budget crisis (the real issues are mandatory spending and taxes) and they will create greater stress on state and local, education and human service budgets. Because the cuts are being implemented half way through the 2013 fiscal year, programs whose 2013 grant has already started will have to absorb the 5 percent in just six months, this works out be closer to a 10 percent for the next six months for these programs.

These cuts will result in more kindergarteners unprepared for school, higher special education costs and increased economic insecurity for not only our most vulnerable families but all of the citizens of Pennsylvania. If we don't stabilize and invest in the communities that need it most, the future of our economy will remain less competitive and less innovative - which means fewer jobs for everyone in the future. Investing in early childhood education generates a 7 percent to 10 percent return on investment each year, according to Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman.

-Investing in early childhood education is a cost-effective strategy - even during a budget crisis. Head Start is a common sense investment for the United States because of its proven return on investment. For every $1 invested in Head Start, our nation receives $7 back in increased earnings, employment, family stability, and decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition, and special education. Mr. Hyatt stated, "Trying to address the budget deficit by cutting Head Start funding is wrong. It's wrong for children, it's wrong for our state economy, and it's wrong for the federal budget. Children should not be caught up in the so called "budget sequester." They are not the problem, they are our future."

Editor's Note: This news release was issued by Blair Hyatt, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Head Start Association (PHSA), regarding the budget sequestration and the cut to Head Start funding.