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After looking at ways to expand preschool services earlier this year, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is now having to consider cuts to Head Start programs due to federal budget cuts.

The county will be losing about $400,000 of its $7.6 million in federal grants for Head Start and Early Head Start preschool services.

Head Start promotes school readiness for children from low-income families by providing educational services from birth to age 5.

County staff proposed ways to absorb the cuts by reducing some services and eliminating two staff positions.

Some supervisors said they would rather bridge the gap using reserve funds until the county completes a long-term plan for how to expand subsidized preschool services and eliminate its waiting list for Head Start and other preschool programs.

“If there is ever a program that we have got to find a way to fund, it is this program,” said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon). “These children will not have the same chance as others unless we have this program.”

The staff proposal to absorb the federal cuts would primarily affect Early Head Start services, for children up to age 3, according to Anne-Marie Twohie, director of the Fairfax County Office for Children.

It would eliminate one staff position each at the county-run Greater Mount Vernon Community Head Start program and at Higher Horizons, one of the county’s nonprofit partners. Eliminating these positions would reduce the number of children who can be enrolled in Early Head Start by 24.

Both programs happen to have vacant positions, so no one would be laid off, Twohie said.

Other cutbacks would reduce the program year for Early Head Start children enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools’ program by 20 days, affecting 48 children, and eliminating transportation services for about 60 children to and from the Mount Vernon program.

Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) said he is concerned that eliminating transportation services would effectively mean that those children would not be able to enroll in the program.

While the county has about $8 million set aside to cover federal budget cuts, County Executive Ed Long cautioned that the problem is a long-term one and the county must decide how it wants to address the waiting list for preschool services in an environment of shrinking federal subsidies.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

It could take into next calendar year to complete the long-term plan, which the county is developing in partnership with the school system, Long said.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com