- The government shutdown forced some Head Start programs to close
- A couple's $10 million donation will reopen the programs in six states
- Head Start helps low-income children prepare for school
Early childhood programs for low-income families in six states, forced to close because of the government shutdown, will reopen with the help of $10 million in emergency funding from billionaire Houston couple Laura and John Arnold, the National Head Start Association said Tuesday.
Some 7,000 children in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi were affected by the closures, the organization said. As many as 97,000 children in 41 states and one U.S. territory could be affected if the showdown extends into November, the group added.
Head Start serves about 1 million children a year, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the program.
"The Arnolds' most generous act epitomizes what it means to be an angel investor; they have selflessly stepped up for Head Start children to ensure their path toward kindergarten readiness is not interrupted by the inability of government to get the nation's fiscal house in order," the association's executive director, Yasmina Vinci, said in a written statement.
The Head Start Association said it will repay the Arnolds if the government, after the shutdown, provides funding to keep programs operational for a year.
"The entire Head Start community and the at-risk children we serve are tremendously grateful to the Arnolds for their compassion and generosity," Vinci said. "The bottom line, however, is that angel investors like the Arnolds cannot possibly offer a sustainable solution to the funding crisis threatening thousands of our poorest children.
"Our elected officials simply must find a fiscal solution that protects, preserves and promotes the promise that quality early learning opportunities like Head Start offer to nearly one million at-risk children each year."
Head Start is a federal program that helps low-income children from birth to age 5 prepare for school. It was founded in 1965. According to its website, it has since served more than 30 million children and their families in urban and rural areas in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories.
When Head Start programs close, many parents must miss work or school to find alternative care for their children, the association said.