For Brittney Knisley, of Carthage, a decision by Missouri legislators to nearly halve funding for the Early Head Start program could force her to drop out of school in order to watch her 8-week-old son, Knox.
“It’s going to have a huge ripple effect on everything,” said Knisley, 19, who is studying nursing at the Crowder College branch in Webb City. “Going to school is so important to me, and making sure the kids have good child care is important to me, too. It’s definitely heartbreaking.”
Knisley said her husband works at a dairy farm, but his salary is not enough for them to afford child care. She estimates they will have to spend up to $180 per week on child care that was going to be provided through Early Head Start before the cutbacks. Knisley’s other child, 2-year-old Remington, will still be able to attend the Learning Junction, 3208 Finley Ave., which accepts the Early Head Start payments.
For now, the couple are praying for additional school financial aid to help cover the costs of Knox’s child care.
“We are blessed and thankful that we have continued child care for Remington,” she said. “It’s just not something we budgeted for at all.”
The Knisleys are among 22 families in Jasper, Newton and McDonald counties affected by the cuts, said Jeff Goldammer, director of Head Start and Early Head Start at the Economic Security Corp. of Southwest Missouri.
Children or veterans?
State legislators cut funding for the Early Head Start program from $5.67 million to $2.65 million as part of the state budget. The cuts are effective July 1.
State Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, said it came down to sacrificing Early Head Start funding to fund veterans homes.
“It’s unfortunate that it affects those people,” Flanigan said. “But we’re also looking at a larger issue of the veterans’ beds. We’re talking about 1,350 beds for veterans who have sacrificed for the country. On balance, the Legislature came down to favor veterans.”
For fiscal 2012, the Missouri Department of Social Services funded 659 Early Head Start slots in the state. For fiscal 2013, 302 slots will be funded, a reduction of 357, said Rebecca Woelfel, spokeswoman for the department.
Locally, Goldammer said, 40 state-funded Early Head Start slots in the three counties are now down to 18.
That will affect day care centers such as the Pumpkin Patch at the Lafayette House, 1809 S. Connor Ave., and the Learning Junction, 3208 Finley Ave. Each will lose five slots that had been funded for Early Head Start children, Goldammer said.
Goldammer said child care, especially for infants and children up to 3 years old, can consume up to a third of a low-income family’s monthly budget.
“It’s sort of a Catch-22,” he said. “You have to have reliable, quality child care to go to work or look for work, and if you lose child care, you run the risk of losing your job because you’re unable to be there as regularly or reliably.”
Locally, families were cut based on the most recent enrollees, which was the most fair way to handle the matter across the board, Goldammer said. He acknowledged that housing for veterans is a worthy cause, too.
“There’s been some talk on a statewide basis of correcting this in the next legislative session, but that doesn’t help families in the short term,” he said.
Other state cutbacks also could affect child care in Southwest Missouri.
The United Way of Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas will lose funding for two programs that help provide child care. A $93,000 state grant helps fund start-up and expansion of child care centers, and a $45,000 accreditation grant helps child care centers meet state accreditation standards.
“The return on investment in these programs is a great value for our community and our state,” said Bev Crespino-Graham, United Way executive director. “This is a shock to us and to the community. It’s a sad day for Missouri.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.
HEAD START was established in 1965 to help low-income families with children between 3 and 5 years old with child care and early education. In 1994, Early Head Start was created for younger children. According to the Missouri Head Start Association, more than 18 million children in the United States have used Head Start services.