With state and federal governments continuing to make cuts, some of the smallest citizens — preschoolers — are feeling the squeeze.
The Lake-Geauga County United Head Start program, a comprehensive developmental preschool program for income-eligible children (ages 3 to 5) and their families, lost its state funding in 2009, leaving just federal dollars and a few grants.
"It was devastating for families," Executive Director Laura Hopkins said. "We still have 175 families on the wait list. These are kids who could have been in the program if we still had the state funding."
Hopkins said it was a huge victory for the Head Start programs when the federal budget didn't cut their funding.
"We were very nervous when the federal fiscal budget proposed a 23 percent cut," she said.
However, the concern isn't over, as the program can still see cuts for fiscal year 2012.
"I see the potential for difficult times ahead," Hopkins said. "I anticipate a huge waiting list again. We have to make sure that doesn't happen so we can service the needs of the community."
In April, a report by the National Institute for Early Education Research in New Jersey stated Ohio's state preschool program enrollment totaled 5,700, along with a special education enrollment of 14,000.
State-run program enrollment has fallen during the past 10 years, but so has funding per child — decreasing by 43 percent since 2002, according to the 2010 report.
Some preschool educators say parents aren't signing up because of financial concerns as well as inability to find transportation to and from the facility.
Jeanne Cocco, director of Willoughby-Eastlake School Early Learning Center, said they were fortunate to have stimulus money to provide opportunities to upgrade their programs during last year.
"We have not seen any more funding through the state," she said.
The center, which serves 250 children, has been tightening its belt during the years, although it has seen an increase in families trying to get into the program.
"This year, tuition went up slightly, but we are still the lowest in the county," said Becky Malinas, co-director of the center, which is located in the Kennedy Community School in Eastlake.
Malinas said the cuts have affected students who qualified for the free and reduced lunch eligibility.
"In the past, the (state funding) was spread out more adequately," she said. "Because of the cuts, we can only fund so many students because preschool is not mandated to give a free and reduced lunch."
Cheryl Lanning, director of pupil personnel at Riverside Schools in Painesville Township, said their program is funded partially through the Ohio Department of Education and the general fund in the district.
With the district's current financial woes as well as the state's $8 billion deficit, Lanning said she expects a reduction in her costs next year.
The preschool, which is currently housed at Cedarbrook Elementary in Painesville, has reduced teachers as well as one classroom to compensate.
In recent developments, however, the preschool would be able to save the district some costs when classes are moved to the Auburn Career Center in Concord Township next fall.
"We only had a three-year lease with Painesville," Lanning said. "The city needs the space for other things, so we knew to look for another venue."
Auburn Superintendent Margaret Lynch collaborated with Riverside Superintendent James Kalis to relocate the preschool, which also helps Auburn students gain real-world experience through observation.
Lanning said the partnership was very attractive to the district as it is paying less to house the classrooms at Auburn.
Preschool officials are optimistic for the future, as they think there is more research in the public eye on why early childhood education is important.
"There is a difference between students who go to preschool and those who don't," said Melissa Malkar, assistant director of pupil services at Riverside Schools. "Those who attend preschool or even day care are much more prepared and ready for the learning environment."
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