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36 Ind. children cut from Head Start programs

Pamela Engel, Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- At least two Indiana Head Start programs have resorted to a random drawing to determine which three-dozen preschool students will be removed from the education program for low-income families, a move officials said was necessary to limit the impact of mandatory across-the-board federal spending cuts.

Programs in Columbus and Franklin are losing two classrooms, meaning 36 children won't be able to return after March 15. Last week, a lottery drawing determined which children would remain the Columbus program, and Franklin had scheduled its lottery for Tuesday night.

Head Start funding is awarded at different times of the year for different programs, so some that already have begun receiving money for 2013 are hurrying to slash budgets in preparation for a 5 percent cut to their overall yearly funding. Doing so sooner rather than later means the cuts are spread out over a longer period of time.

"We wanted to be proactive because the budget cuts are retroactive for a program year," said Jeremy Wells, associate director of children's services for Head Start in Columbus and Franklin. "As of right now, we're overspent."

The Franklin and Columbus programs serve a total of 160 children from low-income families. Franklin and another center in Shelbyville also are losing busing for the children. Officials in that region looked at the addresses of families who had children enrolled in the programs and decided to cut busing from centers that have the most families living within a few miles of the location.

Human Services Inc., which operates Head Start programs in six counties in south central Indiana, is still waiting for a letter from the government detailing exactly how much money it will lose. There are seven Head Start locations with 22 classrooms in those six counties, Wells said.

"It had gotten to this point we were pretty sure we were going to end up getting a cut, so we went with our best guess which was a 5.2 percent cut," he said.

Other Head Start programs across the state are still waiting to hear how much money will be cut before deciding on a plan of action.

"(Programs) haven't been notified yet by the regional office as to what their new grant amount will be," said Cheryl A. Miller, executive director of the Indiana Head Start Association.

Miller said Head Start serves about 15,400 kids in Indiana, and the White House estimates 1,000 will be cut from the programs statewide.

"For a lot of folks they think that at some point in time they're going to have to start cutting slots. ... They're to a point now where that's the only thing they can do," Miller said. "They're really taking a look at whether they're going to be able to continue to serve the number of children they're serving."

Columbus resident Alice Miller told WTHR-TV (http://bit.ly/W6zSDI ) that her 4-year-old son, Sage, was one of the children cut from the program. She spoke about how the program has helped her son advance academically and socially.

"He can say his ABCs. He's counting to 100. He writes his name. I'm very proud of him," she said.

Miller said she was "heartbroken" when his name was not chosen at the lottery.

"He loves school," Miller said. "I don't know how I'm going to tell him he's not going back."