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Protesters Voice Concern Over Looming Head Start Cuts

Jared Adkins
90.5 WESA

The March 1 sequestering of approximately $85 billion could hit national early education program Head Start as early as next week.

In response to the pending cuts, One Pittsburgh, an organization focused on getting big companies to pay their “fair share” of taxes, held a rally at the BNY Mellon building in downtown Pittsburgh Friday to protest the effect cuts will have in the Pittsburgh region.

“What we did today is we actually held a Head Start class in the lobby of BNY Mellon," said Erin Kramer, spokeswoman for One Pittsburgh, "because if we can’t have Head Start when the funding gets cut, we’re going to have to do early childhood education somewhere. They have a lovely lobby, (so) we chose to have story time there this morning.”

After about half an hour, BNY security escorted group members out of the building, at which point the rally continued outside.

Kramer said Head Start is a vital program for children.

“If anything, we should be expanding (Head Start)," she said. "We shouldn’t be cutting that program. It’s a program that works not just for those families, but also it’s an investment in our future."

One Pittsburgh chose BNY as their protest location because BNY CEO Gerald Hassell is part of the Fix The Debt campaign, a "non-partisan movement to put America on a better fiscal and economic path."

One Pittsburgh feels the Fix The Debt campaign wants to address the nation's debt crisis by eliminating programs for the poor rather than fixing tax loopholes that would cost businesses more money.

BNY Pittsburgh spokesman Ronald Gruendl issued this statement in response to the protest:

“In 2012, BNY Mellon paid a total of $85.3 million in income, sales, payroll and real estate taxes. Also, remember we employ more than 7,600 in Western Pennsylvania, the majority of which work downtown. And all of them pay local tax to the city, along with the wage tax to the municipality/school district where they live.”

There have been multiple studies done on the effectiveness of Head Start, including one in 2007 that stated the program passes a cost-benefit analysis.

However a 2010 report by the Department of Health and Human Services found there was little impact for children who participated in Head Start past the kindergarten level.

Hannah Williams, who attended the rally Friday, has a 3-year-old daughter who would be going into Head Start this year. Without the program, she feels her daughter will be at a disadvantage.

“She’s learning at a kindergarten level at the daycare she’s at, and if she can’t get that help as far as learning, then when she gets to kindergarten, she’s going to stifle in success," Williams said. "And that’s the thing that starts in the home but also helps for her to go to Head Start and get the learning that she needs.”