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Local Early Head Start programs in jeopardy

Local Early Head Start programs in jeopardy

Southwest Early Childhood Center program for JCPS students among those that lost funding

May 27th, 2018 by Rebecca Martin in Local News

Sandy Barnes, who works at Scholastic, went to CMCA's Head Start preschool near Lincoln University to help with the 4- and 5-year-old students as part of the United Way's Days of Caring program. Here, she encourages Caiden Dennis to go down the slide while Jada Humphrey prepares to slide on her knees.

Photo by Brittany Hilderbrand /News Tribune.

An early learning program serving low-income families has lost its state funding for Mid-Missouri programming, potentially dissolving the child care service for up to 65 infants and toddlers.

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Central Missouri Community Action, which operates the Early Head Start program in several Mid-Missouri counties, recently learned its renewal application for the Early Head Start State Grant was denied.

CMCA's more than $942,000 in state grant funding over the past three fiscal years — ending June 30 — allowed the nonprofit to operate up to 65 Early Head Start slots for children ages 0-3 in CMCA's nine-county service area.

Eight of those slots have been housed at Jefferson City Public Schools' Southwest Early Childhood Center since 2011, specifically serving pregnant and parenting teenagers attending school within the district. The Early Head Start program was operated entirely by CMCA, separate from Southwest Early Childhood Center's other programs. At one time it occupied two classrooms for a capacity of 16 infants and toddlers but was scaled back due to numbers. At the end of the 2017-18 school year, seven of the eight slots were filled, officials said.

"Jefferson City Public Schools has been a phenomenal partner," CMCA Executive Director Darin Preis said.

Preis said CMCA plans to accommodate teenage parents who would have been served by the program at Southwest Early Childhood Center by providing similar services at other Head Start centers it operates in Jefferson City.

"The first thing we can do is prioritize the teen moms, and we'll get them into our Cole East and Capital Early Learning Center," Preis said.

Early Head Start provides a comprehensive child development program for children under age 3 whose family income is at or below the federal poverty line. It focuses on a "whole family approach," Preis said — "so we're working with the parents as much as we're working with the young children."

State Early Head Start funding for the three-year grant cycle beginning July 1, administered by the Missouri Department of Social Services, went primarily to agencies in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, as well as one in Pettis County, one in Adair County and one based in Joplin, according to information from the Department of Social Services.

It's very competitive. There was a little less money this year available across the state," Preis said. "Ultimately, my interpretation of the review is that basically our cost per child was higher than some of the other competitors for that funding, and that's because we operate one of our own centers."

While CMCA contracts with certain area child care providers to provide Early Head Start slots, the agency has found it difficult to find enough providers willing to meet the federal Early Head Start performance standards, Preis said. CMCA was permitted to operate its own centers for up to one-fourth of the 65 Early Head Start slots it was funded for.

CMCA contracted with these Mid-Missouri child care providers for Early Head Start:

  • Bright Lights Daycare, a child care center in Cole County (eight slots)
  • Nedra Session, a family home child care provider in Jefferson City (six slots)
  • Little Pintos Preschool in Moniteau County (six slots)
  • First Start Learning Center in Howard County (eight slots)
  • Williams Family Support Center in Audrain County (four slots)
  • Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia (13 home-based slots).

CMCA's own Capital Early Learning Center operated 12 Early Head Start slots, but the agency will be able to use federal resources to bridge the gap there, Preis said.

The local nonprofit also plans to seek federal funding to restore its other Early Head Start programs.

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"When Congress passed a budget in March, it included these extra dollars for Early Head Start," Preis said. Even so, he expects that funding to be available no earlier than next spring.

"The Southwest program will be at the top our list," he said.

"We want to make sure at the very least we find a place to work with pregnant teens and their infants and toddlers. That is a priority to make sure that we still have a place for them," Preis said. "Some of our staff are meeting with Jefferson City Public Schools administrators to see if there's any way to salvage those spots."

JCPS officials confirmed they are continuing discussions with CMCA about the Southwest Early Childhood Center program.

"We will continue to seek opportunities to partner with agencies that provide these services for families. District officials will be meeting with CMCA next week to discuss program options for teen parents," JCPS Chief of Learning Brian Shindorf said Thursday. "The JCPS role in this partnership has been to monitor and support the teens in the CMCA program, and ensure success towards graduation. If JCPS teens continue to access infant/toddler care services through other agencies, we will continue to support their school experience."