U.S. Rep. Larsen gets a look at area Head Start program

May 9, 2017 Issues: Budget, Education

U.S. Rep. Larsen gets a look at area Head Start program

  • Skagit Valley Herald
  • Kera Wanielista
  • 5/9/2017
BURLINGTON — While it may seem like preschooler Christian Mendoza is just playing with toys when he builds a Lego car to race against friend Frankie Denunzio-Garcia, the skills the two are learning may set them up for success.
 
The two boys, as well as many other children throughout Skagit County, are students in the largely federally funded Head Start program, which aims to give children from birth to 5 years old — especially those from low-income families — a jump on their education.
 
“Our kids left this program in a really good place,” said Mary Ellen Lykins, the Head Start executive director for Skagit and Island counties. “The outcomes ... are fantastic, truly. (And) the need is huge.”
 
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., visited West View Elementary School in Burlington on Monday to talk about Head Start’s funding, its future and its results.
 
“(Head Start spends) about $9,500 per child in order to help children from lower income homes catch up to their peers,” Larsen said. “Sometimes, we’ve seen from statistics, (they) even surpass their peers as they enter kindergarten.”
 
Also on Larsen’s schedule Monday were visits to Skagit County’s Meals on Wheels organization and to the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group.
 
Those organizations also utilize federal dollars — dollars that some fear may be cut under President Donald Trump’s upcoming budget proposal.
 
“All of them to some extent utilize federal taxpayer dollars to achieve their goals,” Larsen said.
 
Cuts in federal funding would mean fewer children would be able to enroll in the Head Start program, said Joel Ryan, the state’s executive director for Head Start.
 
That could actually cost taxpayers in the long run, he said.
 
“From the societal impact, that means fewer kids coming into school prepared,” Ryan said. “Schools have to spend more money to get the kids to catch up. That’s an expensive proposition.”
 
While a shutdown of the federal government was averted and a temporary budget passed through September — which included an increase in Head Start funding for the rest of 2017 — Trump is expected to release a more comprehensive 2018 budget within a few weeks, Larsen said.
 
“Then we will know exactly what kind of fight or battle we have to go through in order to preserve or enhance these important efforts in our communities that help our children learn, help feed our seniors and help restore our salmon habitat,” he said. “Some of these kids who otherwise would have been able to receive a hand up, later in life may end up in a position where they’re having to receive a handout.”