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Further budget cuts a fear for Head Start officials
Possible 2014 shutdown should not impact the federal preschool program
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The doors took only one day to open again at Ninth District Opportunity’s regional Head Start locations after they closed for the recent government shutdown.

A donation reopened those doors and kept them open throughout the shutdown. Now that the government is back in business, the federal grant that funds the preschool program is back in place.

“Our agency will be repaying the entire loan provided to our program ... through the National Head Start Association,” said Kay Laws, director of Head Start for Ninth District Opportunity. “All of our centers opened Oct. 8, and we are getting back to normal operation.”

The preschool program was closed for only one day, Oct. 7, before the donation.

Laws said the program did lose a few children throughout the district due to that one-day closure, as parents had already paid for outside child services.

“We are back in operation,” she said. “We don’t anticipate any other interruptions in services, and we’re continuing to accept children for enrollment. ... We have very few slots left.”

While the preschool children are back in class, the eyes of their instructors and parents are still turned toward Washington, D.C., where Congress will continue battling over the budget through the end of the year. The agreement to end the shutdown reopened the government only through Jan. 15, 2014.

With that January deadline looming, there is a possibility the new year could be welcomed by another impasse in the federal government. However, Laws said she thinks even if another shutdown does occur, it should not affect the local Head Start as it did earlier this month.

“We’ll be receiving our grant award, and it is going to go back to the beginning of (October),” Laws said. “So once we have an award, then our money is fine for that award. We are good.”

Laws said national Head Start programs were still able to pull from the fund while the government was closed even if their grant year did not begin on Oct. 1.

The more immediate concern, she said, would not be a shutdown but further budget cuts.

“The next thing we’re looking to is this continuing sequestration,” she said.

When federal spending cuts went into effect in March, Ninth District Opportunity lost 336 slots for children across its 20-county area.

“We’ve had to reduce hours for many of our staff,” Laws had said at the time. “We’ve also lost approximately 40 staff members.”

The federal grant is currently $19.8 million for the Ninth District counties.

Head Start receives additional federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and also from the Georgia Pre-K budget for certain blended learning classrooms.

There are about 300 Head Start preschool students in Hall County.

“Unless Congress changes something, another planned cut — we do not know the amount — would occur during this fiscal year also,” she said.

“That’s way out there in the horizon,” she added. “You know Washington. A lot can happen between now and then. But that’s kind of the next thing that’s on our radar.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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