Due to a “lack of low-income students” and the belief that federal funding dollars would serve more people in more densely populated areas, Inyo Mono Advocates for Community Action (IMACA) has lost its federal funding from the preschool program known as Head Start.
Head Start is a program that manages grant funding that helps to provide a cumulative preschool program for low-income families in America. In 1981, Head Start was greatly expanded by the federal government, which helped bring the program to the Eastern Sierra.
“I think we have been operating the Head Start program since the late 80s,” said Bob Hughes, the Executive Director of IMACA, “They basically said that our application wasn’t fundable. There weren’t enough low income students in the area.”
Hughes told The Sheet that all 82 spots in the Head Start program were filled last year which means the low-income family threshold was met.
Another thing Hughes anecdotally referenced was the $12 minimum wage in California. If Head Start is looking at this through a zoomed out lens, a single parent in California making minimum wage earns roughly nearly 40% more (before taxes) than a single parent in Nevada ($8.25).
“Rural communities often get discounted when it comes to these programs,” said Hughes, “Living [in the Eastern Sierra] has its own set of challenges.”
The challenges start from the top and filter down. Primarily, the amount of land that IMACA is servicing is vast as it spans both Mono and Inyo Counties with centers located in Lone Pine, Bishop, Mammoth, Lee Vining and Coleville.
The counties combined have roughly 32,000 residents and Hughes told The Sheet, “With the amount of families that we are helping, the need is significant and the demand is there.”
“The argument made was because there are small sites spread across the region, the money could be allocated more efficiently in an urban environment,” said Jeff Griffiths, a Inyo County Supervisor who sits on the IMACA board, “This is bad logic. Because we are in remote rural communities, there are often no other options for preschool/ childcare for these families.”
So what is the takeaway?
“I think it’s tragic. Especially during a pandemic. Essential workers are the ones who have difficulty finding childcare for their kids to begin with,” said Griffiths.
“All though I am disappointed by the loss of Head Start, we still have the same teachers in place, and we will continue to offer a preschool program,” said Hughes.
IMACA previously ran its preschool through Head Start and the California State Preschool Program (CSPP); CSPP will be the sole pre-school program.
The program might be slightly scaled back, but the bones are still there. A lot of the curriculum will be sourced from Head Start and with the same teachers, it should provide nearly the same level of education.
There are six preschools run by IMACA and according to both Hughes and Griffiths, some will only have half days and others will have full days. Head Start funding meant full day preschool for all six locations, but due to the funding structure changing completely, this could not be accomplished.
“We are going to keep the program running in general. It will more or less be a halfday program with no lunch or breakfast,” said Griffiths. Head Start, in addition to being a full day of schooling, provided two meals to the children. This year, snacks will be provided and breakfast and lunch are dependent on more funding being secured.
The reason the program can continue at all is the odd funding structure that IMACA has managed to put together.
“This has been a cooperative effort. We have received grants through First 5 from the County Offices of Education and some other grants from the State of California [including the CSPP money]. It has really been a piece-meal,” said Hughes, “We have not been able to make it all up but we can always fund to keep these programs running. That is what we do as a non-profit.”
In addition to securing funding, IMACA has already sent an appeal letter to Head Start. “Every governmental decision has an appeal process. We would love community support letters if they want to send them,” said a chuckling Hughes.
For those interested in helping IMACA run preschools, they accept donations through imaca.net under the big donate button.