Head Start felt the pinch

Head Start Zero-Five in Fort Dodge had a challenging year.

During its 2012-13 year, the program helped 194 preschool-age children in 10 classrooms, as well as five additional classrooms in partnership with area school districts.

According to its annual report, Your Own United Resources Inc., the nonprofit corporation that implements Head Start, received $1,306,566 in federal grants from Aug. 1, 2012 to July 31, 2013 for its programs, which employ 48 people and serve Hamilton, Humboldt, Webster and Wright counties.

For Early Head Start, the agency was awarded $572,505 to provide home-based services to a required enrollment of 74, which includes pregnant women, infants and toddlers.

“Because we’re a service program, most of our money is spent in wages, and then we also have many contracts within the four-county area,” Bonnie Calvert, Head Start director, said. “Most of our grant money stays within the four counties.”

Head Start has partnerships with the Fort Dodge Community School District, as well as the Iowa’s voluntary state preschool program, for which it serves 14 children.

Last year, though, Head Start lost $93,000 of its federal funding due to the sequester.

“Our program had a 5.7 percent cut in our total funding,” Calvert said. “We’ve not hired some staff back, and we’ve cut some hours of staff back. We’re also serving 16 fewer children this year in order to cut back on our class size and the need for transportation.”

Calvert said they try to place these children with other programs in the county that have state-funded preschool programs, and refer them to partnering preschools in the local school district.

The majority of children Head Start serves are between ages 3 and 4.

“It is hard to see children sit home and not have a preschool experience, because it really affects their school readiness when they enter a kindergarten program, if they haven’t had a quality preschool experience,” Calvert said.

Head Start is dependent on local matches for its grants, Calvert said.

“We need 25 percent local match to our funding, and that’s a federal requirement,” she said. “We can’t use federal dollars to match, it has to be local or state dollars to do that.”

One area where help is needed is in transportation funding. While Linking Families was able to support Head Start with more than $15,000 for transportation last year, they will not be able to do so in 2013-14, Calvert said.

Calvert said Head Start has been working hard to meet these challenges.

“It has been harder and harder for us to get our non-federal match, so we’re working on how we can improve that for this year, especially when some of our funding has been cut,” she said. “We have some extra needs for financial donations to help with our match. There are many places where we get discounts on services or discounts on rent, or parent-volunteering in the classrooms. All those things count as in-kind match.”