Gov. Maura Healey proposed a $58 billion budget for the new fiscal year on Wednesday that seeks to cut $2.5 million from the Head Start early education program and level-fund the METCO program.
The $2.5 million reduction from Head Start is a part of $450 million in cuts in an effort to reduce state spending.
“This is the third time the administration has tried to reduce funding for Head Start,” said Head Start Association executive director Michelle Haimowitz. “It's going to cause undue harm for the commonwealth's most vulnerable families.”
The Head Start early education program provides childcare for low income children and their families. The program also provides other comprehensive services, like health, nutrition, mental health, education and parent resources.
Haimowitz said there are 28 Head Start agencies that serve more than 11,000 children in the state whose families are either at the federal poverty line or are experiencing homelessness.
The governor’s proposed budget also includes $38.7 million to her new "Gateway to Pre-K" initiative that seeks to expand low or no-cost preschool options for families in 26 “gateway cities” by 2026.
“It's hard to understand how the administration could, on one hand, make such dramatic investments in our childcare system only to cut the funding for Head Start, which provides childcare for the most vulnerable families in Massachusetts,” Haimowitz said. “If the goal is to signal the importance of childcare, then the investments should certainly include Head Start.”
Gov. Healey also proposed that the METCO program be level-funded, meaning that there would be no cuts or increases to the program’s funding.
METCO president and CEO Milly Arbaje-Thomas said although she is relieved their funding didn’t decrease, she is disappointed that they’re not getting an increase.
“Especially after having 22 years of data that shows how the METCO program is working and closing many gaps for Black and brown students in Boston,” she said. “It's unfortunate when you have data to prove that the program is working, and there’s other areas for improvement, that we don't have the funds to actually address those.”
METCO currently receives $29.5 million in state funding to support 33 communities, and Arbaje-Thomas said they were asking for a $3.5 million increase.
“We actually have a lot of expenses related to special education, additional costs for students at $1.5 million, and we were only able to fund $325,000 for the special above and beyond requests for METCO students,” she said. “With that alone, there's a gap of $1.2 million for special education without the inflationary costs of bussing and transportation and staffing.”
Arbaje-Thomas adds that it costs about $500,000 for METCO to continue doing its racial equity work.
Arbaje-Thomas said that level-funding also makes it difficult to keep up with continuously rising educational costs, like bus contracts, SAT prep courses, tutoring and after school programs.
“We've seen teachers also fighting for more pay in their salaries, and it's the same thing for our program,” she said. “We all work in these communities, and we have to keep up with the cost of living.”
Haimowitz said that by limiting access to childcare services, Head Start teachers are going to get hit the hardest.
“Ninety percent of these supplemental dollars go to our Head Start educators and staff who are the real heroes in this work,” she said. “They have been underpaid for too long, and our programs have been working tirelessly to raise their wages, and cuts like this just undermine that effort.”
Haimowitz added, if this cut were approved, some programs would need to cut staff wages or pause hiring.
Gov. Maura Healey’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.