Beginning Monday, Gainesville-based Ninth District Opportunity Inc.’s 20 Georgia Head Start centers in north Georgia will close their doors in the wake of the partial government shutdown.
Head Start and Early Head Start agencies provide federally funded preschool to low-income preschool children from birth through age 5.
Kay Laws, a director who has worked with the nonprofit Ninth District Opportunity for 32 years, said this impacts 2,200 children and 500 employees.
In Cobb County, the closure affects the parents of 169 children and 25 employees who will be laid off at Cobb County Head Start. The preschool is off Allgood Road in Marietta in the former Allgood Elementary School building.
“We regret that this is taking place, but unfortunately it’s out of our hands and we like (parents and staff) are waiting for Congress to come to a resolution,” Laws said. “We are anxious to start back and serve the families and children. That’s the most important thing to us.”
Reactions from parents have varied.
“I think everyone is upset because it is upsetting their schedules,” Laws said. “They are having to make other arrangements for their children and for many of our parents it’s interfering with their abilities to go to school or work.”
One parent even told her that she was having to choose between staying home with her child or quitting school or work.
“The hard part is not knowing how long we’re talking about,” Laws said.
When the budget is resolved, Laws said they are hoping to be able to reopen within a day or two.
Vicky Lopez, whose 3-year-old son Alexis attends the school, was concerned about how he would take the news.
“I have no idea how I am going to explain this to him,” Lopez said Friday afternoon when leaving the school with her child in tow.
Each morning, Lopez said Alexis wakes up excited about going to class because he loves it so much, even on weekends.
Another Marietta mother, who declined to give her name but said this is the second year her daughter has attended the school, has been making phone calls and visiting day cares to try to find a slot for her child.
Like Lopez, she got a letter from the school Wednesday notifying her of the closure.
“I was surprised and I did hear that it was happening to some schools but I was more shocked because it happened to me,” said the mother, a Georgia Natural Gas employee.
Another concern for this mother is figuring out how to pay for her child’s care. Tuition is supplemented through Head Start so she doesn’t pay for school.
The places she’s looking at now are asking for $130 per week for care.
“We are talking about finances because some daycares are really expensive and now they are even more expensive because my child is not going to the school full time,” she said.
The mother also said she’s considered contacting lawmakers to ask them to get off their feet and resolve the budget debate.
“I know that it’s more than just me that’s going through this,” she said. “(Politicians) don’t realize that they’re hurting so many people.”
Trying to lend a helping hand
Pam Tatum, president and CEO of Quality Care for Children, a nonprofit that’s operated for more than 30 years, has been trying to help parents find temporary daycares and funding in light of the shutdown.
“It’s really important for parents to make sure they put their children in licensed care,” she said. “In times like this, it’s common for people to start thinking they can find childcare on signs on telephone poles.”
Tatum said parents can call to confirm whether or not a daycare is a legal provider.
“The parents that are losing Head Start are going to have a bigger challenge than most parents finding childcare that’s affordable and meets their needs,” she said.
Their database includes about 6,000 schools statewide and, on average, they assist 25,000 families annually.
To search for qualified daycare in your area, visit qualitycareforchildren.org or call 1 (877) ALL-GA-KIDS.