Saturday, December 6, 2003

140 kids cut from Headstart program

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WALNUT HILLS - The Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency cut 140 children from its Headstart program Friday because of state budget cuts.

CAA officials dropped the children from the program because their family incomes exceeded the income guidelines set by the state legislature in the 2003-04 budget passed in July. The agency sent letters to parents on Wednesday telling them their children would no longer be enrolled in the program effective Dec. 5.

"We knew it was going to hit, but we didn't know it was going to hit as quickly as it did," said Gwen Robinson, CAA's chief executive officer.

Dozens of angry parents packed a meeting in Walnut Hills Friday night demanding answers for why the cuts came with so little warning. Some vented their frustrations at CAA employees. Others blamed Gov. Bob Taft and President Bush.

"It's ridiculous," said Tracey Pitts, 36, of Madisonville. "Now people's kids have to get adjusted to another set of kids and teachers. They are impressionable right now and to just uproot them like that, it's just not right."

Anthony and Jeanine Cox of Mount Airy left the meeting shaking their heads in disbelief. The couple said they had only one day's notice that their 3-year-old daughter, Angela, was being removed from the program.

"We're just frustrated," Mrs. Cox said. "A lot of us may not meet the minimum income requirement, but we still can't afford to pay $125 a week for day care. This puts us in a really bad spot."

Ohio's Headstart programs are state and federally funded. Under federal guidelines, a family with two children can make up to $12,120 a year and be eligible for the program.

In an effort to help families moving from welfare into the workforce, Ohio legislators raised the state's minimum income requirement to $22,422 for a family with two children. But a tight economy brought a change that affected more than 5,000 children statewide.

The CAA serves about 4,850 children throughout Hamilton County. Robinson said the children would be allowed to continue at their current Headstart location until the end of the month. She said parents would get help finding new day care.


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