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Mo. Early Head Start Budget Slashed

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Social service agencies will be deciding soon which poor families in Missouri will be losing their state-funded child care because of a budget cut approved by the legislature during the closing days of the last session.

Lawmakers cut state funding for Early Head Start programs nearly in half, from $5.67 million to $2.65 million, as part of the state’s budget battle. The agencies that distribute the state’s Early Head Start funds will be deciding in the next few days which people will get to keep their spots in the free programs beginning July 1.

Missouri’s Department of Social Services last week distributed new contracts for providers under the reduced funding.

“Talk about being Solomon,” said Jim Caccamo, the director of early learning at the Mid-America Regional Council. “Which kids do you pick out? (The providers) will have criteria, but, still, how’d you like to be the one to tell that family?”

The Kansas City Star reports that early childhood programming had been underfunded but escaped state cuts in recent years. But Jeremy LaFaver, a lobbyist for early childhood interests, said they couldn’t escape lawmakers’ work during the last week of the 2012 legislative session.

A budget offered by Governor Jay Nixon and the House of Representatives avoided many of the cuts, relying on an amnesty program for delinquent taxpayers that would have generated an estimated $70 million in revenue, said Rep. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican. But the Senate rejected the tax amnesty plan and submitted a budget with sharper cuts.

Silvey led a joint conference committee that hammered out a compromise budget before the session ended May 18. He said that without the tax amnesty plan, the committee was forced to make hard decisions, including the cuts to Early Head Start.

“It was a matter of trying to find priorities for both of us,” he said. “It was important to me we did the best that we could.”

Dean Olson, vice president for programming at the Family Conservancy in Kansas City, said he fears that a poor family that suddenly has to figure out how to pay for child care may turn to unregulated providers. Missouri law allows anyone to provide care in their home, without being licensed, for up to four children. That’s in addition to children related to the provider.

“A major concern with parents who lose care is where are they going to go?” Olson said. “In unregulated care there are no inspections, no training.”

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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