Last week, two Head Start teachers, members of Florida Public Services Union (FPSU), traveled to Washington, DC to lobby to protect Head Start and other early learning programs from devastating sequester cuts.
Across the nation we’ve heard stories about children who will no longer have a place in Head Start classrooms because of these automatic across-the-board cuts. Nationally, the sequester’s 5 percent cut from Head Start’s $8.1 billion budget means 70,000 slots for children must be eliminated in order to achieve the necessary savings, according to initial estimates from the White House.
SEIU members Robin Kirkpatrick and Cheryl Lewis-Hamilton have seen firsthand the positive impact that Head Start and Early Learning programs have had on children and families in their communities.
After seeing the benefits her seven children gained from attending Head Start, Cheryl Lewis-Hamilton worked to obtain her GED in 1993 and went on to gain employment through the Parent Involvement component of the Head Start program. Since then she has gone on to become a Head Start teacher and has worked tirelessly to improve the learning environment of the children she serves.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been giving a tour to head start children, showing them their future school and teachers will come up to me and thank me for how well my old head start students are doing,” said Lewis-Hamilton. “Old students, parents…I get stories all the time about my babies getting on the A, AB honor roll, and going to college… it’s because head start works.”
Robin Kirkpatrick has worked in the Head Start program for 26 years as an early childhood teacher and lead teacher. Because of the many changes in this federally funded program and how the grantee in Jacksonville at the time wasn’t adhering to the changes, she became interested in the history of Head Start and took it upon herself to learn the politics of Head Start funding and how grantees used the funds. Along with fellow FPSU Leader Cheryl Lewis-Hamilton, Kirkpatrick helped raise the importance of Head Start in Jacksonville by working to improve the program, and gain respect and dignity for Head Start workers when they supported the organizing effort of Head Start workers in 2003.
During their visit, Robin and Cheryl lobbied members of the Florida Congressional delegation, House and Senate Appropriations Committees, and the Office of Head Start at the Department of Health and Human Services to call for an end to the sequester’s deep cuts to this vital early learning program.
“As head start teachers we wear many hats, we have to be social workers, we have to provide social services, nutrients, snacks, dental services,” Kilpatrick said. “We are community builders. When they were trying to get rid of head start, community members, parents even religious leaders marched together to put a stop to it. Head start means a lot to the community. That’s why we’re in DC. We came to give a face and a voice to the children who are not given a voice to tell their stories.”