Because of the sequestration of federal funds by Congress, the valley's Head Start in the coming school year will cut 79 spots for preschool kids, ax 17 jobs and move 14 staffers to part-time.
"It's going to be hard. It's a good program, especially for Spanish speakers to learn English and be ready for kindergarten," said Renatta Hernandez, who Thursday brought several of her children to a news event at the main Head Start Center in Central Point.
"It's most important to have food and education," she added. "I hope they take this chance to think about it."
Nursing assistant Angie Setsodi of Medford, who has two kids who graduated from Head Start, says the cuts will mean less day care for working parents, thus forcing more people to quit jobs and move below the poverty line.
"It helped a lot with our child, now 13. Teachers here noticed severe behavior problems, and we caught them early, otherwise we'd have a teen delinquent. They teach social skills so kindergarten teachers don't have to. And it's four and a half hours of the day when we don't have to pay for day care and can work jobs, instead of having to live off the system."
Although it makes sense to pare budgets down, said Southern Oregon Head Start Executive Director Alan Berlin, in a talk to staff, parents and political officials, "cutting funding for Head Start and other early-learning programs — which reach kids in the critical early years — is a shortsighted economic move.
"For every one dollar invested in a Head Start child, society gains $7 in return through increased earnings, employment and family stability, as well as decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition and special education."
No present students will be cut, but 79 applicants will be put on a waiting list, said Berlin.
"This will impact the entire community," said Nancy Nordyke, director of Head Start. "A higher percentage of Head Start kids graduate from high school and make more money in their lifetimes."
Parent Marcella Bailey of Medford called the cuts "very disappointing. My son has one year here and, at the start, he calmed way down, his vocabulary is higher, he talks so well and is recognizing letters." "Everyone needs it," said Lucia Ramirez of Medford. "It helps us parents to have this support. It's easier to work. But the cuts in transportation will be hard."
Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, called the sequester "illogical and counter-productive ... a form of mutually assured destruction cutting from all areas, with both parties thinking compromise would then be reached."
Such compromise could be attained in a nine-day window when Congress returns after Labor Day, but Buckley isn't optimistic.
"I wouldn't give good odds on that," he said.
Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, said, "We have no control over the dysfunctional funding policies in Washington. If only they realized what's at stake."
On the initiative of Gov. John Kitzhaber, a bipartisan majority in the recent Legislature pumped several million dollars into Head Start in an effort to stabilize it, the legislators said.
Head Start's work goes way beyond teaching, says Berlin, as it monitors for learning disabilities, provides access to dental and vision care, and "makes children able to gain the basic building blocks of reading, socializing and preparing for a lifetime of earning and success."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.