Children and Families Week celebrated in Florida but budget woes linger

By: Erica Rakow Email
By: Erica Rakow Email
This week is “Children

Staff Photos: Jason Braverman
Kathy Schmidt, a media specialist at Rock Springs Elementary School, reads to a group of first-grade students on Friday afternoon. Schmidt has been named the Gwinnett County Public Schools’ Media Specialist of the Year.

Panama City-- As toddlers innocently enjoy another day at the Vetter Head Start Learning Center in Panama City, others gathered just down the road in downtown Panama City to discuss budget issues that would affect children and families in our area.

"Some of the legislation we've kind of shared with parents are budget cuts to the school readiness program. We're looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 percent of that and that affects children age birth to 12," said Early Education and Care Executive Director, Dr. Pamela Fleege.

Like all other state-funded operations, early childhood programs are on the chopping block. But Early Education and Care officials are even more worried with what's going on in Washington.

"At the national level, we're looking at possible cuts for Head Start which directly affects some of the kids here today," said Dr. Fleege.

Head Start is an income based educational program for infants and toddlers. The program serves 591 children in Bay and Franklin Counties.

"It will be detrimental because we will lose our parents and those parents are the parents that we serve that have to go to work to support their children even though they work minimum wage," said Director of the Vetter Head Start Center, Verna Hines.

Two of Hope Sapp’s' 3 children are enrolled in Head Start. She says it's more than just a place for her kids to go during the day.

"If we didn't have the program, some of the kids would do without Christmas," said Sapp.

"We realize that there's not a lot of money to go around and we realize that budget cuts are pending for everyone. But we just really don't want to see that for our youngest citizens because it affects the rest of their lives," added Dr. Fleege.

The proposed House budget would cut more than 9,000 spaces, about 700 classrooms and more than 2,000 jobs from Head Start statewide.

68 spaces, 7 classrooms and more than 2 dozen jobs would come from Bay County.


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