Head Start teachers name Obamacare as biggest problem

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Head Start teachers and administrators told The Daily Caller that their most pressing concern is not budget impacts from sequestration but changes coming from President Barack Obama’s health-care law.

In 2014, the impact of 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “is probably going to be a 9 percent [cost] increase, and significantly more the next year,” said Nancy Nordyk, director of the Head Start program in southern Oregon.

Rising healthcare costs will likely force Oregon to reduce some Head Start workers’ hours so they’re not eligible for the medical program, said Nordyk, who spoke to TheDC during a national Head Start conference held just outside D.C. in Maryland.

In one conference session on the pending healthcare bill, “some of the [managers for regional Head Start] organizations [said] ‘We don’t know what to do,’” said Elizabeth Steinberg, the CEO of Community Action Partnership in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

The worried managers come from “all over the country,” said Steinberg, whose Head Start program has 387 children.

The growing worry about Obamacare’s impact on Head Start has been obscured by the White House’s periodic efforts to portray the program as the victim of Republicans’ recent approval of sequestration, a slight reduction in the rate of federal spending growth that is erroneously described as a spending cut.

Administration officials announced April 29 that the Head Start funding would face a 5.27 percent budget cut in 2014.

“I know that there hasn’t been a lot of coverage of the [sequester] impacts on real people, on the families who had to be engaged in lotteries to see whether their child, on a Friday, was still going to be in Head Start on Monday,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a press conference in April.

However, in multiple interviews during a reception Thursday at the ritzy Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, Head Start teachers and administrators told TheDC they’re coping with the cuts.

Sandra Deveux, a teacher in Florida’s Brevard County, said her program trimmed $220,000 from its budget by cutting contracts and counseling. So far, she said, there been ”no cuts in employees, no cuts in services.”

“No layoffs yet,” said Shelvy Deskins, a teacher from southern Virginia’s Buchanan county. “Everything for the children, we have to keep,” she said.

Theresa Baker, a parent on a Head Start unit at Jefferson County, Kentucky, said her district may close some classrooms just before the end of the financial year in August. “Everything is under a microscope… we’ve become very very frugal,” she said, adding that her district will likely trim costs by scaling back home-visits to children enrolled in the program.

In Oregon, the Head Start region has scheduled a three-week “summer furlough,” will close one class 12 days early, and will delay opening the 2014 school-year for kids aged four and five, said Nordyk. Her head Start unit has 1,215 students and 300 staff.

However, many attendees at the National Head Start Association’s 40th annual conference said they’re coping with the sequester. “We’re going to make it,” said Weldon Beard, director of the Head Start program in Nacogdoches, Texas.

“At this point, they feel they’ve made their peace with it,” said Andrea Davis, director of Early Childhood Products, a company based in McHenry, Ill., who works with many administrators. “There has not been anyone who said ‘We don’t know what to do.'”

The sequester effects may become more acute in fall 2014, when Head Start will have to cut spending by 5.27 percent. Administrators from Maryland, Oregon, New Jersey and other states described possible means for coping with that crunch, ranging from reducing transportation for students to layoffs to cutting the number of kids in the program.

Still, Head Start seemed most worried about the impending Obamacare program.

To reduce Obamacare costs, Nordyk of Oregon will likely reduce full-time staffing, perhaps lay people off, and spend more hours on paperwork. “The bookkeeping information for it will be substantial because if you make a mistake, there’s quite a big [financial] penalty,” Nordyk said.

“I totally support full coverage… [but] it is a serious challenge” for the budget, she said,

“By January, we’re going to have increased costs” because of the health care law, said Steinberg, from San Luis Obispo. “But we but don’t know how much.”

The Head Start program has been dogged by controversy for years, partly because extensive analysis has failed to show any long-term benefits for kids.

“The advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade for the sample as a whole,” concluded the Obama administration’s January 2010 Head Start Impact Study [pdf], which surveyed performance by almost 5,000 kids.

The federal government has spent more than $100 billion on the program since 1965, according to the Heritage Foundation.

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