Chelsie Pate never imagined her 3-year-old son Tyler would be affected by sequestration.
But he could be.
Head Start, the federally funded school readiness program for lower-income families, is another casualty of the federal budget cuts.
“I thought it just affected people who work for the government,” said Pate, who lives in Goose Creek.
Sequestration, which went into effect on March 1, cut the budgets of most federal departments and agencies, including Head Start. Nationally, the programs have seen a 5.27 percent decrease in their $8 billion in funding.
In Charleston County, that’s about $424,000 less in the program; in Berkeley County, which also runs the program in Dorchester County, that’s about $206,000.
The county school districts have struggled to come up with ways to cut their budgets without affecting the programs. Nationally, Head Start, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, serves more than 960,000 children, often providing hot meals and basic medical care like vision and hearing tests.
“Our goal was to maintain the staffing that we’ve got, maintain the quality at the centers and find ways of reducing wherever we could,” said Steven Markiw, budget supervisor for early childhood programs for Charleston County School District. “We did an analysis to see where we could reduce.”
Charleston County eliminated field trips and increased its in-kind contributions by doing things like moving maintenance workers, formerly employed through Head Start, to the district.
It also closed for the month of July its year-round Early Head Start program for children 6 months to 3 years. To make up for lost days, the district plans to implement home visitation for the 120 children in the program when it reopens Aug. 5, Markiw said.
Berkeley County, on the other hand, is reducing the number of days its Head Start children go to school. The Berkeley-Dorchester Head Start program will be cut by seven days, from 180 to 173, for both students and instructors.
But they are planning to cut days at the end of the school year, hoping that the funding will come through before then and the calendar will not have to change, said Karen Whitlley, Berkeley County School District associate superintendent.
But if the days are cut, plans have been made to make up for them.
“We will still be providing the same quality of service to our families and to our children,” Whitley said. “Every day those children are in school, it’s going to be quality education. We are going to be ready to go and teach them till that last minute when they walk out the door.”
Berkeley received a grant to run the program in Berkeley and Dorchester in 2011. The first year, the program was 160 days. It was expanded to 180 last year.
Berkeley County is also reducing the number of children served in the Berkeley-Dorchester Head Start program from 617 to 601, but is not cutting anyone who has already been in the program.
The National Head Start Association estimates 65,000 fewer slots for children and 11,500 jobs lost, but Berkeley’s program will employ one fewer teacher and assistant by not filling current vacancies, Whitley said.
Also, bus transportation, funded by Berkeley County School District, is being eliminated in Dorchester County as the Berkeley district slashes its budget from $185,000 to $120,000. Last year, Dorchester students were transported from central bus stops.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.