Head Start students feeling effects of federal spending cuts

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The automatic budget cuts in Washington D.C. are getting personal for young Hoosiers. Mandated Head Start cuts nationwide are forcing some children in central Indiana out of the preschool program.

Alice Miller saw the excitement in her son from the first day of preschool.

"It was awesome. We would just sit on the porch and wait and then he's just like, 'When's the bus going to get here?'," Miller said.

Head Start has made a big difference in four-year-old Sage. His mom notices it in how he plays with other kids and how he's advanced academically.

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

But Miller just learned her son soon has to stay home from school. He's being cut from the program as a result of federal budget cuts. Head Start has to reduce expenses five percent nationwide.

"I was heartbroken, because he loves school," Miller said.

Jeremy Wells is Head Start's associate director of children's services in Columbus. His regional program serves six south central Indiana counties. Wells said telling children to go home was the worst of the cuts.

"It's not been a fun couple weeks for us," Wells said. "They decided that the most fair way was just going to be a lottery."

So earlier this week, at parent-child night, staff in Columbus put all the kids' names in a fishbowl. Names picked in the lottery get to stay. The rest have to leave the program.

"His name didn't get picked," Miller said through tears. "His last day is March 15th."

Sage and 16 other children in Columbus now will be placed on a waiting list for next year. Nineteen additional kids will be cut from the Head Start program in Franklin next week, also using the fishbowl lottery method.

Head Start, which helps low-income families afford preschool, also had to eliminate teaching positions in several counties and bus transportation for children in Franklin and Shelbyville.

School leaders say policies in Washington are getting personal for the youngest Hoosiers.

"I can't really wrap my head around the mind of a politician," Wells said. "I'd encourage people to write, call, email Congress, senators, any representative you can. Hopefully someone will listen, because we are dealing with the lives on children and their families."

Miller fears her son will lose his head start on education.

"I don't know how I'm going to tell him he's not going back," she said.