Dumping Head Start program doesn't make sense
Why is the county dumping Head Start?
The easy answer is I don’t know. I’ll admit, I’m new to this whole Head Start thing, but it’s not hard to see that what the county commissioners are saying about getting rid of Head Start as a county run program just isn’t true.
For those readers unfamiliar with Head Start, it is a federally run program that annually provides 561 low-income and at-risk preschool age children and their families services in education, health care, and food. The program pumps over 4.5 million federal dollars into the local economy and provides jobs for over 150 people. Washtenaw County serves as the designated body that manages that fund and employs the administrators that oversee the program. It has done so for over 40 years. The county has decided that it no longer wants to provide this service.
The only reason that the county has actually given anyone as to why they are dumping Head Start is that they want to save the county money. But that is an easy reason to disprove. The county claims that it will save $360,000 a year by dumping Head Start. The reality is that if the county dumps Head Start, they will immediately have to repay the federal government almost $1 million it spent to build the county Head Start building in Ypsilanti, as well as the almost $150,000 a year that the federal government has given the county in bond payments for the building for each of the seven years it has been used by the program.
To do the math simply, if the county dumps Head Start, it will owe the federal government almost $2 million, which would mean that the county wouldn’t even begin to save money until 2018. And even then, the county can’t be sure that it will actually save the $360,000 per year it’s claiming it will. Unfortunately, that math isn’t as straight forward.
So again, I am left to ask, why is the county dumping Head Start? If they aren’t saving money, and they have no say over whether the program will continue to exist, why risk it? There is no sense, especially in this economy, of burning a dollar to save a dime.
Editor’s note: Kelly Belknap, interim deputy county administrator, said at this time the county has not identified any federal regulations that would substantiate the claim that the county would have to reimburse the federal government for the $2 million. “We will of course work closely with the Regional Head Start office at the appropriate time to ensure all issues related to the this program and the changes proposed are addressed and resolved,” she said.
Aaron Pressel is a resident of Ann Arbor who grew up on the city’s south side. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has spent the last 5 years working in the social service sector providing services and advocating for the county's most at-risk populations.