The Times
  • Hanna sponsor of bill to increase preschool funding

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  • In the spring, Dolgeville Central School District officials learned they would lose about $100,000 through federal cuts and would have to eliminate their Head Start program.
    But the district rearranged its budget, looked for savings anywhere it could and managed to save the school-readiness program. It now serves 33 children but there’s still a waiting list.
    “We felt it was critical to keep the program going,” said Superintendent Christine Reynolds. “We’d love to be able to reach more.”
    Help could be on the way. Introduced in Congress Wednesday, the Strong Start for America’s Children Act would give children and families nationwide better access to affordable high-quality early learning programs such as Head Start and preschool.
    The bill, introduced by U.S. Reps. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, and George Miller, D-Calif., and other lawmakers, is a 10-year proposal that would fund preschool for four-year-olds from families earning twice the federal poverty level or less — an income of about $47,100 for a family of four.
    The legislation also would encourage states to spend their own funds to support preschool for families with incomes above that level.
    “By focusing on early education, we can begin to break the back of intergenerational poverty, producing more taxpayers and a more competitive America through a better-educated, growing middle class,” Hanna said in a news release. “One in four children starts their life in poverty. This bill will help ensure their lives do not end in poverty.”
    Earlier this year, funding to Head Start programs nationwide was reduced 5.27 percent through forced federal spending cuts — about $7.6 billion.
    If passed, the bill would authorize $1.3 billion in spending the first year and increase to $8.9 billion by fiscal year 2018.
    Students born into poverty are less likely to be school ready.
    “There are a lot of kids that come into school unprepared for kindergarten and that sets them back,” said Lara Sepanski Pimentel, executive director of the Literacy Coalition of Herkimer & Oneida Counties. “Sometimes, they don’t ever catch up.”
    The coalition and other community partners have been working to increase the area’s literacy level and already are pushing to increase opportunities for early childhood education.
    And increasing education levels can lead to a reduction in spending on entitlements, welfare and incarceration, as well as improving health rates.
    “Really seeing political support behind early childhood education is exciting and kind of uplifting to see,” Sepanski Pimentel said about the act. “Finally, getting the policy pieces to come on board with what the community already knows, it can just elevate everything and go that much further and be that much better.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Reynolds said she’d love to be able to reach more children with the Head Start program — something that would require more funding. Families otherwise have to pay for private services.
    With five children and one income, the free Head Start program at Dolgeville has been especially beneficial to the Palmeroni family.
    “Knowing that it’s free, it was just an opportunity that was open for them, so I took it up,” said Salisbury stay-at-home mom Cassie Palmeroni.
    She had three children go through the program and one currently is enrolled.
    When her now first-grader Harley was in the program, the teachers identified that he had a speech problem and got him help right away, Palmeroni said.
    “If he didn’t have that, he’d still be struggling with his words and talking.”
    “Since the oldest (now nine years old) was in there, I swear by it,” she said. “It gives the kids a boost.”
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