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Parents worry about budget cuts to children’s programs

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. --  On Friday, March 1st, the automatic federal budget cuts will eliminate millions of dollars for education in both Kansas and Missouri.

The White House says 1,200 children in Missouri and about 500 in Kansas will be forced out of popular early education programs like Head Start.

In Clay, Platte and Jackson counties 3,000 children currently are enrolled in Head Start programs. Automatic spending cuts mean about 300 of them won't be able to continue when they go to re-enroll.

Letha Jones has two children in Head Start and Early Head Start programs at the Children's Therapeutic Learning Center. As a single parent, Jones says the preschool, health and social services her kids receive are things she couldn't provide without government help. And she's worried her kids soon may be left behind, instead of getting a head start, thanks to automatic federal budget cuts.

"My daughter has Down's syndrome. She was born that way," Jones explained. "She doesn't have a choice in life. She's already delayed. And with them wanting to cut this. It just sets her back. How do I prepare her for her future when I am not here to carry her anymore. I think that's terrible."

Studies show quality early learning programs make a difference for children who face the biggest challenges to escape a life of poverty. Some say the budget cuts would impact those who need this help the most, eliminating child care subsidies for 400 children in Kansas and up to 700 in Missouri that have low-income working parents.

"I think losing any money is a big deal," said Jim Caccamo, director of early learning at the Mid-America Regional Council. "It's sort of like if there's a 10 percent chance of rain and you're standing in a thunderstorm. That's a 100 percent chance. So if it's your child that is put out of a program because of the sequestration cuts, it's very important."

Despite pleas from parents like Jones, Democrats fear the cuts will shift poor children from quality learning centers to unlicensed and unregulated operations.

Some Republicans in Congress say there should be less painful ways to cut the budget than what President Obama has warned will happen to early education programs.

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