Central Missouri Community action hosted Mid-Missouri Legislators in Columbia at the Park Avenue Head Start Facility Monday.
Darin Preis, executive director of Central Missouri Community Action, said Head Start and Title 1 programs provide a safe place for learning for at-risk children, while their parents are working.
Head Start is a federally and state funded early childhood program which provides for academic and behavioral services for low income families.
Title 1 is a federal program that funds a preschool program that targets children that are directly at-risk for various reasons such as development delays or an incarcerated parent.
He said the programs are important because, “It gives us an opportunity to really work closely with those kids, to make sure that they’re getting some academic preparation that they are working on social and emotional issues, so that they’re behaviorally ready for kindergarten.”
Preis said legislators need to make early childhood a priority when it comes to state funding. He compared the costs of supporting a preschooler and the cost of supporting someone who’s incarcerated.
He said the state could spend less money educating at-risk children when the brain is undergoing the most development, than what it would take to support a criminal locked up in the system.
Preis said state and federally funded programs are guaranteed to work because they are held accountable for every dollar that these programs receive. He said these programs create opportunities for kids to be successful.
According to its organizers, Monday’s meeting aimed to ensure legislators continue to support funding the Early Childhood Development Education and Care fund in the state budget.
Jack Jensen, executive director of First Chance for Children, said the program helps children prepare for success in school. The First Chance for Children program is also a recipient of the Early Childhood Development Education Care fund.
He said the funds make sure Missouri’s at-risk children get a good quality education. Jensen said, “The thing we know about early childhood education is, it has to be quality or else your money’s just not being put to good use.
Last year, Missouri legislators cut about $13 million from Early Childhood Development Education and Care funding that would help pay to prepare at-risk children for kindergarten. This year, Governor Jay Nixon has proposed $17 million in funds for early education and child care.
If sequestration cuts go into effect, Preis said these eight to nine percent of all early childhood programs would be cut, workers would be laid off and the demand for these services would be higher than what workers would be capable of handling.