By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO April 21, 2006 Even Start may have to come to a stop in Sullivan County.
Thanks to a severe cut in funding by the federal government, the program thats been helping low-income families with children under the age of 8 in Sullivan County since 1998 is facing closure.
Traditionally, funding has come from the federal government through the efforts to keep up with the No Child Left Behind Act.
But 60 percent of that money has been written out of the 2006-07 budget, and its been left to the states to fill the gap.
According to Kathy Meckle, coordinator of educational support services at BOCES who oversees the local Even Start program, without federal monies, the state is cutting 17 programs.
That includes both of those operated in Sullivan County and a number of other Even Starts in the Hudson Valley (in addition to the program in neighboring Delaware County).
The problem, Meckle said, is that both Sullivan programs are in the fourth year of a four-year funding cycle.
Its time to reapply for funding.
But, she said, the states made the decision to cut all programs that are in that fourth year.
Theres talk that the county will be able to reapply for the 2007-08 fiscal year, but that leaves them short at least $200,000 for this coming school year.
And without that money, Meckle sees a devastating effect on the county.
The current programs are actually partnerships between BOCES and the Recovery Center in Monticello and the Sullivan County Child Care Council.
Parents of children under age 8 receive education through the programs everything from parenting classes to preparation for the GED exam.
Educators help the families through a combination of home visits and center-based learning at BOCES St. John Street Education Center in Monticello.
Transportation is provided by the Recovery Center, and both parents and children spend up to four mornings a week in Monticello learning.
Parents who may have dropped out of school or had poor examples of how a parent should get involved in their childs education are given the tools to help their own children succeed, Meckle explained.
They learn how to talk with school officials to ensure their children are getting the assistance they need. They learn to support their children at home, how to help with homework and how to encourage language development and literacy.
The children also get much-needed early education intervention that can prevent them from needing costly special education services when they enter the local school districts.
Its really worked out well for a lot of families, Meckle said. A lot of families were devastated when they heard [about the cuts].
There are a lot of parents whod like to get their GED, but they have no way to get there or no childcare, she continued.
Even Start has solved that problem and the educators at BOCES have turned lives around.
I think whats key for Sullivan County is these folks are going to be employable, Meckle said. Theyre going to be supporting their kids in school.
Since Even Start debuted as a home-based program in 1998, serving about 35 families, the numbers have almost doubled.
Today about 65 families receive services either through home visits or classes in Monticello.
The numbers of actual families havent increased that much, but the intensity of the services has increased greatly, Meckle said. The word is out there.
I think since weve started the center-based program, its gotten much more known.
Although there are still referrals to Even Start from other agencies, parents are actually signing themselves up for the services these days.
But all that will be gone if Meckle and her colleagues cant serve the public this year.
The $200,000 figure is a minimum amount they need to keep things running, she said, with two family educators on staff to continue the classes at the center and make a few home visits.
The goal is to keep the program at a level that would still qualify for the Even Start program making it easier to reapply in a year.
For information on helping, call Kathy Meckle at 796-4332, ext. 115.
A funding campaign is being set up through The Recovery Center. For information on donating, call Veronica Uss at 794-8080.