Dallas Co. Head Start unaffected by government shut down

Published 7:35 pm Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Many Head Start programs in Alabama have felt effects of the federal government shutdown, but Dallas County isn’t one of them.

The Head Start program is federally funded and promotes the school readiness of children from birth to 5-year-olds from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development.

State Rep. Darrio Melton said the services Head Start provides are vital, especially in an impoverished are like the Black Belt.

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“Some of our students are at a disadvantage already,” Melton said. “If our Head Start program is affected, it means our students are missing out on an opportunity to be impactful in the formative years. The program gives them a leg up so they can compete in the world.”

The only programs affected include those that receive funds at the start of October, Department of Children’s Affairs Commissioner, Jeana Ross said. Affected programs include Florence City Schools, Cheaha-Talladega-Clay-Randolph-CCCC Development, Walker County Board of Education, Dothan City Schools and Cullman City Schools.

Alabama’s Head Start program includes 36 entities, more than 280 Head Start centers, 827 classes and 19,699 students, according to the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs.

Ross said Alabama’s Head Start programs have been fairly fortunate, considering the number of affected entities.

“Any child who has been affected is significant, but when you look at the percentages of how many students have been affected, I think we have been lucky,” Ross said.

Some Head Start programs have been affected by the shutdown, but may be able to reopen for a temporary period because of a sizable donation.

Texas philanthropists Laura and John Arnold donated $10 million to the National Head Start Association.

The support will provide assistance to Head Start and Early Head Start programs that were forced to close or are facing closure, according to a news release.

“For nearly 50 years, Head Start has been the window of opportunity for more than 27 million of our nation’s poorest children as they embark on their journey to achieve the American Dream,” Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association, said in the release. “The Arnolds’ most generous act epitomizes what it means to be an angel investor; they have selflessly stepped up for Head Start children to ensure their path toward kindergarten readiness is not interrupted by the inability of government to get the nation’s fiscal house in order.”

If the shutdown continues, more programs will likely be affected, Ross said. But it’s unclear whether Dallas County might be one of them.

Dallas-Selma Community Action Head Start did not return requests for comment.