For more on Head Start in Hall County, contact Ninth District Opportunity Inc., 308 Spring St., Gainesville, GA 30501; 770-532-3191, fax 770-532-2602
At a time when most federal programs are seeing a reduction in funding, the Georgia Head Start program’s budget has largely been unaffected.
"We haven’t had any budget cuts recently," said Kimberly McKinney, director of one of the main Head Start programs in Hall County. "We’re actually getting some stimulus money — not a lot, but some."
Head Start is a federally funded pre-K program that targets children from low-income families.
"Students have to qualify for the program, based on their family’s income," McKinney said.
Despite its funding remaining at "status quo," McKinney says that the local program is still looking to reduce unnecessary expenses.
"We’re looking to do some budgetary tightening of our belts," said McKinney. "But in doing so, we won’t be cutting classes."
With 18 pre-K classes for 4-year-olds and four Early Head Start classes for 3-year-olds, the Butler Cluster program can accommodate about 430 students. Despite such a high capacity level, the agency still isn’t able to meet local needs.
"Enrollment has gone very well; the waiting list is actually longer than it has been in the past," McKinney said. "I think the longer list is a reflection of the current economic situation."
For students who qualify for the Head Start program, there is no charge. Private pre-K programs can cost parents hundreds of dollars monthly.
Overall, the statewide Head Start program also will be able to accommodate the same number of students this year as last year.
"We don’t have the funding to expand our program, but we also haven’t had to cut any programs," said Susie Wilcher, president of the Georgia Head Start Association.
According to the association, nearly 26,000 children in 157 counties attended Georgia Head Start programs last year.
The federal government originally began Project Head Start in 1965 as a summer program for preschool-age children. Since that time, the program has been expanded to mirror the calendar of local school systems in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.