$10M donation keeping Head Start program afloat
by Sarah Fay Campbell
The local Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Coweta County were not among the programs required to temporarily close their doors as a result of the partial federal government shutdown.
The metro Atlanta area programs that were closed were able to reopen Tuesday thanks to a donation from Texas philanthropists Laura and John Arnold. The Arnolds pledged up to $10 million to get the shuttered programs up and running again.
The two Head Start centers in Coweta are operated by Community Action for Improvement, which provides Head Start and Early Head Start programs in a six-county area that includes Coweta. Centers are in Newnan and Haralson.
Seven Head Start programs, serving 7,195 students in Georgia and five other states, had to shut their doors because they didn't get the federal funding grants they were due to get on Oct. 1. Other programs weren't affected because their funding date was not Oct. 1. Programs serving some 11,000 students risk losing their programs if the shutdown continues through October, and starting on Nov. 1, programs serving more than 86,000 children in 41 states and one U.S. territory stand to lose access to Head Start funding, according to the National Head Start Association.
“For nearly 50 years, Head Start has been the window of opportunity for more than 27 million of our nation’s poorest children as they embark on their journey to achieve the American Dream,” said Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association. “The Arnolds’ most generous act epitomizes what it means to be an angel investor — they have selflessly stepped up for Head Start children to ensure their path toward kindergarten readiness is not interrupted by the inability of government to get the nation’s fiscal house in order.”
The money donated by the Arnolds is only enough to fund the seven closed programs, and only through the end of October.
“We sincerely hope that our government gets back to work in short order, as private dollars cannot in the long term replace government commitments," the Arnolds said in the statement.
Officials at CAFI headquarters in LaGrange did not respond to repeated requests for comment, except to say that the program was not affected by the government shutdown.
The CAFI program serves a total of 811 children in Head Start, and 220 in Early Head Start, in Coweta, Carroll, Heard, Meriwether, Harris and Troup counties. Enrollment was reduced from 880 because of budget cuts known as the "sequester" earlier this year. The budget cuts also resulted in the closing of two Head Start centers, including the small program at the Verona Rosser Center in Newnan and one in Harris County, and the elimination of transportation services, which were already limited.
Head Start and Early Head Start are comprehensive programs that provide education, health, nutrition and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. Head Start is for 3- and 4-year-olds and Early Head Start is for pregnant women and for children up to age 3. It is a program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and eligibility is based on income.