CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Funding cuts to Head Start from the federal sequester are already in effect, but state education and family advocacy groups, along with politicians, are working to prevent another round of cuts.
A vigil Thursday in front of the Federal Building in downtown Charleston brought together these groups and others to remind community members that these cuts are in effect, and to launch a political campaign to lobby against more cuts.
A letter to that effect was introduced by Senate Education Chairman Robert Plymale and initially joined by Delegates Don Perdue, Barbara Fleischauer and Meshea Poore.
Head Start, the federal program that puts children from low-income homes into preschool classrooms in the name of school readiness and provides them with a slew of other support programs, has been slashed nationally. That's because of the sequester — the automatic spending cuts agreed to last year after a Congressional deadlock on the budget.
West Virginia lost slots for 461 children with the 5.27 percent cut, according to the National Head Start Association, and 80 Head Start workers lost their jobs.
To paint the picture, officials rallied Thursday in front of 461 empty, child-size chairs — a visual reminder of the children who lost access to services this year.
"It's a picture for us, but it's a reality for other people," Poore told the assembled crowd, urging them to overlook politics as they considered what those chairs symbolized. "Our children do not have a party affiliation. They're children."
The impact of the cuts is less severe in West Virginia than in many parts of the country. That's because of West Virginia's newly expanded universal preschool program. It's one of the few states that has had state-funded preschool in every county for more than a decade now, and last fall, lawmakers approved legislation mandating that all 4-year-olds be given the option to attend a full-day program, not just part-time.