A classroom of Franklin preschoolers won’t return to school next month because the federal dollars that pay for their teacher and classroom assistant have been cut.
Franklin Head Start center, one of three federally funded programs that provide preschool for students from low-income Johnson County families, is cutting a teacher and classroom assistant and closing one of its classrooms.
That means when spring break ends for Head Start on April 8, 19 students won’t be able to return, said Jill Hammer, executive director of Human Services Inc.
Students who had been enrolled in previous preschool programs or who were enrolled in Head Start last year might still be prepared for kindergarten. But students who have received less than a year of preschool might not be ready to start kindergarten yet, Hammer said.
The parents of the 55 students still enrolled in the Franklin Head Start program will have to find new ways to get their children to and from preschool. Head Start is ending bus service for Franklin students for the rest of the year as another way to save money, Hammer said.
Head Start programs across the state started preparing for cuts after reductions in federal spending, known as the sequester, came closer to taking effect on March 1. Officials were anticipating a 5 percent cut in funding, which amounts to cutting between 200 and 230 teaching positions, affecting about 1,500 students, from the program statewide.
Human Services Inc., which oversees Head Start for Johnson County and five other central Indiana counties, had to cut $127,866 from those counties’ Head Start programs. About $46,000 will come from the staff cuts made in Franklin, Hammer said.
As officials decided what cuts to make and from which programs, they reviewed what other preschool options were available for students and the number of students who would be affected by employee cuts and calendar changes.
Officials decided to close one of Franklin’s classrooms because other preschool programs were available in the city, including the preschool Johnson County Learning Centers has opened with Franklin schools at Webb Elementary School. Officials considered ending the school year early but decided that would impact too many students, Hammer said.
“We just wanted to look at making this reduction now and only affecting a certain number of families, instead of ending the school year early and affecting all families,” she said.
Head Start served about 123 Johnson County preschoolers before the cuts at centers in Franklin, Greenwood and Edinburgh. The program prepares students for kindergarten whose families’ incomes don’t exceed the poverty level. The program runs almost entirely on federal funds but also receives money from the United Way, Hammer said.
After the sequester took effect, a committee made up of parents and volunteers from all six of the central Indiana counties met to decide how to handle the reduction. The council needed to decide which students would remain enrolled in Head Start. Their options included a student lottery, looking for students who needed the most preparation before starting kindergarten and ending the school year early, Hammer said.
The council decided to use the lottery, which is how the students remaining at Franklin Head Start were selected, Hammer said.
Cuts to the other counties program include a classroom being closed in Bartholomew County, affecting 14 children, and transportation services being eliminated in Shelby County, she said.
Hammer doesn’t believe any additional cuts are needed for any local Head Start programs, but that depends on whether any additional cuts are made to federal spending.
“There’s always a concern. That’s something we watch very closely,” she said.
Local public school officials are waiting to see whether federal spending cuts will impact any of their programs. Franklin schools, for example, pays for tutoring programs and a summer pre-kindergarten camp with federal money it receives to teach students from low-income families.
Cuts to that funding could jeopardize those programs, but school officials don’t know yet if those funds will be reduced.