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Monday, October 7, 2013
Today all the talk in Washington and around the country is focused on the folly of a government shutdown that will harm many Americans, especially the most vulnerable among us, in myriad ways.
Yet, even before this stalemate in our nation’s capital, Virginia families — in particular, little children — were suffering the ill-effects of deep federal budget cuts in the Head Start program. Some 57,000 kids have been denied enrollment nationally because of the indiscriminate slashing of essential programs known as “sequestration.” Virginia has not been spared, with upwards of 800 children losing access.
Virginia’s children are counting on their next governor. We therefore respectfully request on their behalf that both candidates, Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe, propose state-budget support to nullify these cuts, enabling Virginia’s most vulnerable children to enroll in Head Start.
The state budget is running a large surplus. Less than $10 million would ensure the children are ready to enter school as eager learners, on a path to academic success and being productive members of society.
For almost 50 years, Head Start has provided an early-learning experience for millions of low-income preschoolers who otherwise would enter kindergarten without the opportunities available to other children. Without Head Start, many would begin school already behind — and many would remain behind.
Virginia cannot afford the cost of this kind of large-scale school failure. The state’s economy needs every child to develop the skills a global economy most certainly will require of them. Children deserve nothing less.
Although Head Start is a federal program, many states — including Virginia, in years past — have supplemented it because of its solid track record.
Indeed, the federal cuts have had much less impact in Maryland than Virginia because of the willingness of that state, and even counties, to replace federal dollars with local dollars to keep Head Start available for their neediest children.
The Washington Post recently reported that Gov. Martin O’Malley is using $9 million of the state’s surplus to “protect Marylanders against the harm that these arbitrary cuts would cause” to programs such as Head Start. Is there a reason any Virginia parent, policymaker or politician can give that would justify the education and well-being of a Maryland child being more important than that of a child of the Old Dominion?
We know from our polling that the vast majority of Virginians of all political persuasions want more proven early-learning investments, like Head Start, for our children. It is both a moral and economic issue, not a partisan one.
We urge both of our gubernatorial candidates to address Head Start in the weeks ahead, and ask them to support us by going to http://www.strongkidsstrongvirginia.com and signing our petition. Let’s not let Washington gridlock lead to lost opportunity in Virginia.
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