Head Start classes remain open

Education stockBy Chris Kieffer

Daily Journal

All of Mississippi’s Head Start classrooms are currently open, even with the partial federal government shutdown sliding into a third week.

The executive director of the state’s Head Start Association said on Tuesday that all of Mississippi’s centers are safe at least through the end of October, thanks in part to a large gift from a pair of private philanthropists.

Mississippi has 19 different federally-funded Head Start programs, which serve about 300,000 low-income children, ages 0 to 4. Funding cycles determine when programs would be impacted by the shutdown.

Lee County’s Head Start classrooms belong to Mississippi Action for Progress Inc., whose grant funding runs through the end of November, said Charlene Priester, in-house counsel for MAP.

The association serves more than 5,000 children in 25 counties, including 10 Northeast Mississippi counties.

“When the grant expires, if the shutdown is still going on, we are in dire straights,” Priester said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, one Mississippi Head Start program did have to close its doors earlier this month and two others seemed in danger of doing so. But all three are open now, Nita Thompson, executive director of the Mississippi Head Start Association, said on Tuesday.

The Five County Child Development Program; which serves 900 children in Simpson, Lawrence, Jefferson Davis and Covington counties; was closed Oct. 1-7. It was able to reopen thanks to a $10 million gift last week from philanthropists Laura and John Arnold of Texas that benefited several programs across the country.

Their gift also aided the Jackson County Civic Action Committee, which operates a Head Start program that serves 717 children in that county. It would have had enough funds to operate through the end of this week, said Executive Director Diann Payne, but is now safe through the end of the month.

Jackson-based Friends of Children of Mississippi Inc., which operates facilities in 15 counties, also faced possible closures due to a glitch that prevented it from drawing its funds. That has since been corrected, and it also has remained open.

If the shutdown continues into November, some programs could be impacted, Thompson said.

“We are hopeful this positive movement we are hearing will continue and everything will be back on track,” she said.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com