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Federal funding cuts eliminate teacher, room for 19 children

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Fewer students are in class learning letters and numbers, playing games and practicing how to act in a classroom after a federally funded preschool program in Franklin had to make cuts.

Franklin’s Head Start center has 55 students this year, with three preschool classrooms — two for half-day students and one for full-day students. But that is down from last year, when the center had four classrooms and about 74 students enrolled.

The center had to make cuts after losing funding earlier this year. Cuts in federal spending, known as the sequester, reduced funding for Head Start programs in Johnson County and four other counties in central Indiana by $127,866. The Franklin program had to cut $46,000.

The preschool center had to cut a teaching position, a classroom assistant position and can no longer provide transportation for students.

Because Head Start wants to keep a ratio of two adults for every 19 students, 19 children were told they couldn’t come back this school year, center manager for Johnson County Kim Russell said. Officials used a lottery system to decide which families could remain enrolled in Franklin’s program.

Head Start is open to 3-, 4- and 5-year-old students whose families are living at or below the poverty line. Sometimes the program is the only preparation those students will have before starting kindergarten, where they’ll need to be able to recognize the alphabet and certain words so they can begin learning to read.

Teachers throughout the county say preschool is key to getting students ready for kindergarten and beyond.

At Head Start, the students’ days are filled with games, at least 60 minutes of daily exercise and lessons to help them recognize letters and numbers. They also practice how to behave in a classroom, Russell said.

Franklin is one of three Head Start centers in Johnson County, with other locations in Greenwood and Edinburgh. Officials made the cuts at the Franklin center because parents have other preschool options in the area.

But school officials throughout Franklin and central Indiana have been concerned for years that families don’t have enough options for preschool programs for children who need them. The Head Start cuts mean the need has gotten even bigger, Russell said.

“There’s still a need for that classroom,” she said.

By cutting the number of students enrolled, teachers and assistants can continue preparing their students for kindergarten without an impact in the classrooms due to the funding reductions, Russell said.

“The 55 students that we have, we’re going day-by-day and doing the best we can,” Russell said.

Along with preparing children, Head Start also tries to prepare parents who don’t always know what their children will be expected to know by the time they reach kindergarten.

Because the program cut transportation for students, parents have had to figure out how to get their students to preschool each morning. But they’ve also started spending more time in their student’s classroom, Russell said.

“It’s good and bad. But it’s nice that the parents get to see the teachers more. There’s more face to face,” Russell said.

As parents spend time in their child’s preschool class, they learn how to help their children as they advance through elementary school.

Head Start also relies on parent volunteers who regularly visit classrooms to substitute if a teacher or assistant misses a day, Russell said. Parents can become Head Start substitutes after volunteering in the classroom for at least eight hours, passing a background check and attending training, Russell said.

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