Head Start is a lousy name, because at best the program just makes up lost ground — gives needy preschoolers some of the things other kids get by being born into middle-class families.
Things like access to books and computers, dental care, decent meals, organized play time. It gives kids a chance to learn numbers and letters, and screenings to check their sight and hearing.
They need this help everywhere, these Head Start families, which are eligible only if they fall below the federal poverty line. In Hernando County, you can be sure, they really need help. There's a waiting list of 125 children, which would be longer if not for the families that find the number so discouraging that they decide it's useless to add their child's name.
And the 285 kids who got a place didn't just get in because their parents signed them up on time. No, children with one parent are chosen over those with two; children with physical or learning disabilities are picked ahead of those without. The very poor are selected over those who are merely low-income.
So what could be more important than protecting this program from cuts that will deny service to even more families?
Making points with your Republican bosses, maybe. Pleasing the very conservative voters in your district. Keeping your job.
At least that seems to be the choice of U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Spring Hill.
Nugent is the only one in Hernando County who can actually do something about that hideous word and concept we've all been exposed to over the last few years: sequestration — the $85.4 billion in federal budget cuts this fiscal year that are starting to take a toll on public services and the economy.
A lot of economists blamed the sluggish job growth in March on sequestration. Some of them say it's a serious threat to bring down the feeble recovery.
Locally, it will pretty much bring an end to, for example, a federal home weatherization program that can save low-income families $300 to $500 a year on power bills, that provides work for contractors and business for hardware stores, that prevents wasteful energy consumption.
Sequestration already has forced cutbacks for the meals program that is a lifeline for some older residents. It will mean less money for our public schools with high percentages of low-income students.
But it's Head Start that probably best illustrates the way we spend federal money, our generosity to older people and our stinginess to the young.
The federal government allocates seven times as much per capita on the elderly as on children, according to a recent study by the Urban Institute. Even when state and local education dollars are figured in, the ratio is still more than 2-to-1.
This is not a good plan for the future, obviously, and some Republican leaders have told President Barack Obama that he must do something about bloated spending on Medicare and Social Security.
Last week, as I'm sure you've heard, he did just that. His proposed budget includes cuts to both programs, along with closing tax loopholes, including the ones for people who earn lots of investment income.
Nugent found this appalling, according to his written response to the budget:
"In my mind, it's hardly worth trying to talk to this man (our president, he means) any more about how to put this country on a sustainable path."
Nugent favors the House plan, which offers protection for military spending and, at least for the next few years, entitlement programs for the elderly, as well as a slash-to-ribbons approach to most other domestic spending.
In other words, it really is appalling, not to mention unacceptable to Democrats, as Nugent and other House Republicans realize.
So by saying this is his choice, he's really choosing to continue the ugliness of sequestration, to do nothing.
That means one less Head Start classroom in Hernando starting next school year, one less teacher, one less aide and room for 20 fewer kids. It means taking a little more from people who have the least.