Fayetteville, N.C. — Federal budget cuts that go into effect Friday will force 1,500 North Carolina youngsters out of their Head Start classrooms in the coming months, according to official estimates.
The preschool program is designed to help children up to 5 years old whose families live below the poverty line get ready for kindergarten.
Cumberland County has the fifth-largest Head Start enrollment in North Carolina, with 900 children. Donna Barnette, the local program director, said Thursday that she will do everything she can to avoid cutting enrollment, noting hundreds of area children are on a waiting list for the program.
"It's heartbreaking to hear that these children and their families that are trying to work and go to school won't have these support services," Barnette said.
"These students benefit a lot from this program. I see children who do not go to these schools, and I can see and I feel that they're missing out on a lot," said Rubi Salgado, who teaches at the Ashton Woods Head Start, off Bragg Boulevard.
In addition to basic reading, writing and math skills, children in Head Start learn social skills such as teamwork. Barnette said she wishes that Congress and the White House would use some of those same skills.
"It is very frustrating that, as adults, they can't come up with a workable plan instead of just cutting across the board," she said.
About 200 people work for Head Start in Cumberland County, and they also face the loss of their jobs because of federal cuts.
Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday that Head Start is unlikely to see any impact from the cuts until July, at the earliest. After that, he said, the state would have to find money to fill the gaps.
Barnette said trimming enrollment and payroll would be her last resort, adding that donations and funding partners might be able to make up for the lost federal funds.