Silent playgrounds could soon replace the sound of young children learning: cuts from the federal budget sequester could cause deep-rooted problems for Harrisburg's young.
Right now, the sequester cuts are causing a ripple in early education programs like Head Start. Rumors are flying that teachers will soon be let go, students will be eliminated from the program, and some even believe Head Start will shut down altogether.
Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Head Start Association Blair Hyatt has the tough task of calming fears while telling employees and families the realistic possibilities involving the program.
"All of change makes people anxious," said Hyatt. "It doesn't mean it's going to be the end of Head Start."
However, Hyatt warns severe cuts are coming. Head Start is expected to receive a five percent cut to the overall program in Pennsylvania. In Dauphin County, there are currently 700 students enrolled in Head Start. The sequester would squeeze out 35 students, equivalent to three classrooms full. That figure does not include the 685 students on the waiting list to get into the program.
"I think it's very hard for [teachers and employees] to watch it have to reduce itself after working very hard, committed to serving families that are Head Start families," said Hyatt.
Head Start teachers and staff may be affected by these cuts.
Last week, Senator Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pennsylvania) proposed legislation that would not only save pre-K but also require it.
"There's potential over the next couple of months to reach a broader agreement," said Casey. "But, it's going to be very challenging. We've all gotta work very hard."
Casey believes you'll be hard pressed to find many, if any, people against providing early education to children. The senator said a vast amount of research concludes pre-K is vital to the overall community's progress and economic growth.
"Head Start is an investment," said Casey. "It's about [Gross Domestic Product] growth, it's about a skilled work force; it's about beating the competition around the world."
Hyatt said congress might be in danger of beating itself first. Besides sequester cuts hurting children, Hyatt's biggest fear is that politician will not care that they already have.
"It's going to be a long, slow, painful change rather than some big, dramatic change," he said. "That doesn't mean it's not seriously going to impact communities, children and our local economies."