Fairfax County approved a new budget Tuesday without setting aside money for Head Start. The bipartisan plan will become official next week, but as Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey reports, the lack of funding for low-income preschool is frustrating some supervisors.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors gave initial approval Tuesday to next year's budget -- but several supervisors raised concerns that the budget contains no funding to expand Head Start, which has a long waiting list.
The Head Start program -- supported by federal, state and county funds -- provides free preschool to children from low-income families. Right now, 1,613 three- and four-year-olds are enrolled in Head Start, but more than 800 are on the waiting list.
Supervisor Cathy Hudgins says it's time for the board to make Head Start a priority. "We have to express on a larger scale it is important," said Hudgins to News4 Northern Virgina Bureau Chief Julie Carey.
"If we want to consider the Fairfax County public schools a great school system, we have to bring children through the door prepared," she said.
A recent study conducted by a group of retired military brass known as MIssion:Readiness blasts Fairfax County for its failure to fund more Head Start slots in spite of the area's affluence.
"I realize times are tight and tough decisions have to be made, but I'm always of the notion that if we think a problem is important we'll solve it," said Lt. General Norman Seip, who is retired from the Air Force.
Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova says the county is committed to Head Start. "We're not proud that we aren't doing as much as we should but we are committed to making sure those opportunities are available."
Supervisor Hudgins will try to formalize that commitment with a resolution next week. She will ask the school board to meet with supervisors this summer to develop a strategy to eliminate the waiting list by 2018.
"There's 800-plus kids are are not gong to get into Head Start this year," said Supervisor Jeff McKay. "I don't want it to be 800 kids again next year."
There is a chance about 50 slots could be added if sequestration cuts are avoided. Right now the Fairfax County Board has set a reserve fund aside to prepare for possible sequestration impacts. Some of that money could be used for Head Start if it's not needed to offset federal funding cuts.