Dozens of kids who need the most help in Southern Oregon won't get it.
79 chairs will sit empty at Southern Oregon Head Start this year. It's all happening because the federal government failed to come to a compromise on a series of budget cuts called the sequester back in February.
On Thursday Head Start officials displayed 79 empty chairs representing 79 kids from struggling families who won't be going to preschool at Southern Oregon Head Start or Early Head Start.
"It's worse than we thought."
Back in February, the word was that there would be 50 fewer kids this September. The number was upped to 79 and that's not the end of it.
"We also shortened our school year and we also had to lay off 15 staff members," said Alan Berlin, Executive Director of Southern Oregon Head Start.
In addition, 17 full-time employees with benefits, were switched to part-time without benefits.
Officials say Sequester is to blame
The series of budget cuts totaling about $85-billion, known as the sequester, isn't just hitting Southern Oregon. More than 57,000 kids across the nation are also losing out.
"It's not just head start they lose, but a number of other supportive community services," said Berlin.
"We provide health services, make sure that children are screened for vision and hearing," added Nancy Nordyke, Director of Southern Oregon Head Start.
Fewer Spots Means More Kids at Disadvantage
The kids who would be in a Head Start classroom are the ones who need the most help in our community. Fewer spots means adding insult to injury.
"These 79 children that won't be able to attend [...] won't be as prepared for kindergarten," said Nordyke who also mentioned the increasing standards in school districts across the state.
In a previous interview Julie Evans, the Elementary Education Director at the Medford School District said pre-k programs are now more important than they were in the past.
"The typical kindergartner now is expected to write three sentences," said Evans.
For parents some parents, if it weren't for Southern Oregon Head Start, their child wouldn't even be in preschool to begin with.
Children losing out on early education...an unfortunate reality that won't soon change unless congress decides otherwise.
Oregon Representatives Show Bipartisan Support
Oregon Representative Peter Buckley and Representative Dennis Richardson also made an appearance at Head Start on Thursday to show their bi-partisan support for the program.
"Oregon has made an investment over the past several years in a bipartisan effort. We've invested in Head Start and early childhood services," began Representative Buckley.
"Oregon's taken two steps forward and the federal government is pulling us one step back," he continued.
Representative Richardson, who is running for Governor, said one of his top priorities include schools and preschools.
Interested in Southern Oregon Head Start?
Spots at Southern Oregon Head Start, while fewer than before, are still open. Officials said it's not first-come-first-served, rather the decision to approve an application is based on need.
If you're interested, you can apply by filling out an application. The online application can be accessed at the following website: http://www.socfc.org/pt-event/apply-online/
To find out if your family qualifies, click here.
For more information, call Head Start directly at 541-734-5150.