PolitiFact: Kathy Castor says 70,000 children lose Head Start access, including 2,000 in Florida

Published June 10, 2013

Faced with complaints about airport delays, members of Congress took action to halt sequester-related furloughs for air traffic controllers.

Some Democrats want to know why other groups aren't getting similar relief from the sequester.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, railed against cuts to Head Start recently on MSNBC's Hardball.

"Seventy thousand 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds across America will lose access to the preschool Head Start classroom ... 70,000 students across America and 2,000 in the state of Florida alone because the Republicans refuse to replace the sequester or sit down with us to negotiate a balanced plan."

We decided to take a look at the numbers.

Before the sequester, Head Start enrollment was at record highs because the Obama administration nearly doubled the number of children enrolled in Early Head Start through the economic stimulus, leading to a dramatic rise between 2009 and 2010. Congress decided to spend more money on Head Start in the next two years to keep enrollment at that level.

A month before the sequester took effect, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a Feb. 1 letter that "up to 70,000 children" would lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start. The White House released estimates that Head Start would be eliminated for 2,700 Florida children.

But those estimates are just that — estimates.

We checked in with some Head Start programs around the state of Florida and found that many were not reducing the number of children in the program.

Broward and Miami-Dade programs, two of the biggest, will not reduce enrollment, officials there said. Broward plans to cut nine staff positions to achieve its cuts while Miami-Dade included additional local funding to make up the difference.

Hernando, Sumter and Volusia counties are reducing training budgets and making other changes to avoid cutting enrollment.

In Hillsborough County, the county's largest Head Start provider has so far avoided cutting spots by holding off on building two covered play areas and canceling field trips.

But it will reduce the number of children it serves by 40 in its next budget, officials say.

Our ruling

Castor said, "70,000 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds across America will lose access to the preschool Head Start program. … 2,000 in the state of Florida alone."

Castor omitted an important qualifier, that up to 70,000 children could lose Head Start access. Her Florida figure comes from the White House (2,700 for Florida) and the National Head Start Association (2,000).

The fact is while Head Start programs stand to lose money, many programs are taking steps to absorb those cuts that do not require cutting enrollment.

We rate her claim Half True.

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