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Franklin County Head Start forced to lay off 12

August 19, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania budget impasse has prompted the executive director of Franklin County Head Start to lay off 12 full-time employees and cut 90 enrollment positions for children.

Franklin County Head Start Inc. operates the Fannett-Metal and Chambersburg Area school districts' pre-kindergarten programs. Neither will open Aug. 31 because of state leaders' failure to pass a budget and start funding for 2009-10, according to Director Carol Sutton.

Eighty-three children from Fannett-Metal and Chambersburg Area school districts will instead be placed in the other, federally funded Head Start program, Sutton said. So will seven pre-kindergarten children from outside Chambersburg and Fannett-Metal, she said.

This means 90 fewer spots will be available in the federally funded program for other 4-year-olds. Almost 300 children are served through those offerings.

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"We have 500 children on the waiting list," Sutton said.

About $750,000 a year passes from the state through school districts to Franklin County Head Start, which is in its 45th year, she said.

Head Start children spend 5 1/2 hours a day for four or five days a week in an elementary school classroom. There, they learn to count, sort numbers, identify letters and look at words on a page from left to right.

"It's also about getting them curious about learning," Sutton said.

Participating youngsters are "at risk" based on income, non-English speaking homes or disabilities. Sutton said statistics show the program prepares 75 to 80 percent of them for kindergarten by spring.

"We try to serve the neediest children," she said.

Budget-related changes for Head Start and child care providers in Pennsylvania could mean parents needing to leave jobs or seek alternate day care. One of Sutton's employees resigned because she lost child care when subsidies dried up.

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