Cuts to Head Start Program Run Deep in Minn.

Updated: 08/21/2013 7:29 AM By: Katherine Johnson

Head Start programs in Minnesota originally estimated they'd be forced to eliminate 500-600 slots for kids across the state.

Now, with the start of the school year right around the corner, the number jumped to 988 spots being cut. 

In Hennepin County, Head Start is eliminating 88 spots for children and laying off staff. Right now, there are more than 1,000 kids on the waiting list for the Pre-K program. Due to federal budget cuts, that list is about to grow.

"At the end of the day, we're going to lose children," said Rico Alexander, the Director of Head Start in Hennepin County.

The government has cut 5 percent of the program's operating budget. The options include reducing hours of operation, meals, transportation, staff and students.

"We're talking about the poorest children in the state of Minnesota," said Alexander.

"These are the people that really, really, really need the education," Demetrius Pendleton said. He knows first-hand.

"I had my four children with me when I was homeless at the time," he said, remembering how he came across the Head Start program. "There's no book on being a parent, but I learned really how to parent my kids."

"They are more likely to graduate from college, less likely to be incarcerated," said Alexander.

The Head Start hands are tied. Federal regulations restrict class size and teacher-student ratios. That means many Head Start locations have to take fewer kids to maintain the quality of the program.

"You have to make a decision, and it's not the decision that we want to make," Alexander said. "It's not the outcome that we want to have, but it is the nature of what's going on right now."

With fewer students, Head Start will also eliminate more than 100 staff positions throughout the state this fall. That means when the school year starts, kids who could be in school will be in a shelter instead.

Head Start programs serve more than 1 million children from poor families across the country. 

There are 36 Head Start centers throughout the state. Other states are fixing the problem by cutting hours instead of students. 

The latest figures compiled by Head Start show that 18,000 program hours will be cut next year by centers starting later in the day or ending earlier.