Budget Cuts Weaken Early Childhood Opportunities

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COLUMBIA - Some state-funded programs designed to enrich early childhood development will lose millions in funding next fiscal year.

On May 30, Governor Jay Nixon signed House Bill 1731 into law. The law allocates additional revenue from casinos to veterans homes. That money used to go to the Early Childhood Development Education and Care Fund. To make up the loss, the law requires that at least $35 million in tobacco settlement funds be deposited in the Early Childhood Development, Education and Care Fund. However, some of the Early Childhood programs won't see any of that money.

A total of $9 million for certain Early Childhood programs was cut during this year's budgeting process. Next fiscal year, the Department of Social Services will face the following cuts:

$3.07 million cut from the Missouri Early Head Start Child Care Partnership Project.
$3.07 million cut from the Accreditation Facilitation program.
$3.69 million cut from the Start-Up/Expansion program.

The Early Head Start program helps babies and toddlers develop basic skills. Children attend full-day classes five days a week so their parents can go to work. The budget cut means 360 families will not receive services any more.

Darin Preis, executive director of Central Missouri Community Action, said a lack of educational opportunities for children 0 to 5-years-old could affect a child's entire life.

"A lot of time parents will just cobble together whatever they can find," Preis said. "A family member will help out a little bit one day, a neighbor will help out a little bit another day. But ultimately what that means is a very inconsistent environment for that child."

Elaine West, executive director of Missouri Association for Community Action, also said she is concerned that some children might not be prepared for school because of the elimination.

"What I have heard from the Department of Social Services is they too were trying to determine what had happened," West said. "When I talked to them, they were still trying to determine where the money has been moved to, and what they have to do in order to manage what's left."

Preis said the program coordinators are waiting for the state's guidance to help eliminate services and determine which families will be eliminated from the program. For the Early Head Start program, the slots will be cut starting July 1.