Head Start wins big, gains momentum



(L toR) Shawna Crawford, Louis Finney, Jr, Rep. Kathy Castor, Sylvia Hubbard
  • (L toR) Shawna Crawford, Louis Finney, Jr, Rep. Kathy Castor, Sylvia Hubbard
There was a lot to smile about at the Connie Momarro Head Start Center, at 3600 Fairfield Ave S, in St. Petersburg, Monday morning.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa/St. Petersburg) met with students, families, teachers and administrators to celebrate Head Start's (HS) big windfall in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 ,recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama.

The appropriation provides an increase of $1 billion over sequestration level funding.

Castor said, “Parents all across the county can be self-sustaining, get that job, put some money in the bank while their kids are involved in the most intensive education initiative in the country.”

That news is a welcome relief for Pinellas families that rely on the federally subsidized preschool programs. Pinellas County Head Start (PCHS) was making plans to cut 200 students from its rolls due to sequestration.

“In addition to restoring funding for Head Start, the bipartisan budget also boosts Early Head Start by designating [another] $500 million for expansion and creates a $250 million competitive grant program for states to develop or expand high-quality preschool programs for low-income families,” Castor told reporters.

New management and an influx of money signal a turnaround for PCHS which has endured several changes in leadership over the last two years.

In 2012, Castor called for an investigation that questioned use of program funds while PCHS was under Pinellas Opportunity Council leadership. Interim federal over-sight resulted from the investigation while another grantee was sought.

On July 1, 2013 Lutheran Services Florida became the PCHS’s grantee, beating out Pinellas School Board’s bid to receive the funds and take over management of the program.

The Congresswoman introduced Louis Finney, Jr, the new Vice President of Head Start/Early Head Start Services for Lutheran Services Florida (LFS). Finney, according to Castor, was a beneficiary of Head Start during his preschool years.

Responding to a question posed about LFS’ future plans for the children in community, Finney replied, “One of the things we are looking at doing is working with the childcare community particularly the small businesses…this gives us an opportunity to put more resources into the community and help small businesses.”

He indicated that the use of private childcare facilities would help significantly by providing Head Start quality childcare to the approximately 800 preschoolers currently on their waiting list.

Noting that parental involvement was an important component of the program, Castor said, “Head Start continues to be an invaluable community investment…[it] ensures children succeed in school and parents have the ability to work regularly and begin their climb on the ladder of success.”

On hand was parent Shawna Crawford, who recently enrolled her son at the Momarro Center. She said, “I’m getting ready to transition from being a stay-at-home Mom, to getting back to the workplace and Head Start offers the resources I need while I help better my family.”

“Pinellas Head Start is going to start anew with Lutheran Services Florida now overseeing these services,” Rep. Castor said. “We are going to put in the past the challenges we have had and focus on making sure children and families have every chance to succeed in life.”

Parents interested in participating in the expanded program should contact LSF Head Start/Early Head Start at 727-547-5979.

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