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Head Start is no place to start with funding cuts

August 21, 2013

The cuts enacted by sequestration were intended to be ruthless. They were designed to eat at some of our most revered and necessary domestic and military programs because, the thinking went at the time, no Congress in its right mind would ever allow them to go into effect.

Looking back, and knowing now what we didn’t know then about the mind of Congress, this scheme was not a stroke of tactical genius.

Nevertheless, the administration pursued it, never believing that Congress would do the unthinkable.

So now we know the victims of political miscalculations and stubbornness: They are the senior citizens who count on Meals on Wheels, cancer patients who will have to pay more for their treatments, scientific research crucial to the advancement of society and, now, the little children of poverty-stricken households.

We hope Washington is proud of itself for taking its broadsword to the defenseless.

Head Start came about under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, and it has been a key part of the social fabric ever since, giving disadvantaged children some hope of entering school on somewhat equal footing with their more fortunate classmates.

Sequestration slashes $400 million from Head Start, which will affect 60,000 families nationwide. Yet, Head Start is considered to be so important that some cities, including Baltimore, have decided to cut funding in other areas and shift the savings to Head Start.

By now, everyone — with the apparent exception of those inside the Beltway — should be aware of the value of early education and its effect on later life.

And even if lawmakers are cold-hearted enough so as not to care about poor children, they might consider the ripple effects.

When so much is made of the unemployment rate, the Head Start cuts will cost thousands of jobs of teachers and aides. According to the Congressional Budget Office, sequestration as a whole will cost us 750,000 jobs and reduce economic expansion for the year from 2 percent to 1.4 percent.

And when the message from Congress to America’s poor seems to be “Get a job” — well, a lot of young women are trying. Head Start frees them up to find work when otherwise they would be home with the child, living off the public dole.

Children who attend Head Start are more likely to succeed economically and pay taxes into our treasury, rather than winding up in prisons, where they will instead be a drain on it.

It is arguably one of our more cost-effective programs, as has been borne out in nearly a half-century of results.

We care little at this point about who or which political party is to blame. Some things should be above politics, and the nurturing of our most vulnerable children should be at the top of that list.

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