REDMOND, Ore. - Oregon nearly leads the nation on Head Start dollars spent per child -- good news for those who say early learning programs are vital to a child's success.
"(Head Start children are) less likely to access public services, more likely to graduate, less likely to be incarcerated," NeighborImpact Executive Director Scott Cooper said Monday.
But it's a bit of a Catch-22 -- on the flip side, the roughly $8,500 Oregon spent last year per child means only about 7 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Oregon get the services.
"It's certainty true that you can rob the resources. What we try to do is prioritize the most needy kids," Cooper said.
A recent National Institute Early Education Research report shows Oregon has lower enrollment than most other states with public preschool programs. It says 7,200 low-income Oregon children attended Head Start programs last year -- less than 10 percent of those who qualify.
Nearly 450 kids in Crook and and Deschutes counties go to Head Start -- but there's always needy kids who can't get in.
"The waiting list will fluctuate anywhere between 150 to 200 kids at any given time," Cooper said. "There's always a line of people who want to get in."
Unlike most Oregon programs, NeighborImpact's Head Start gets most of its funding from the state, but will lose eight slots next year due to the federal sequester.
And although Oregon lawmakers increased pre-K funding by $11 million last year, the real dollar values show early education programs have been losing funding for more than a decade.
"Our teachers are doing more with less," Cooper said. "They just pour their heart and soul into making sure these kids get taken care of."
And he's hopeful expansions, rather than cuts, will become the new normal.
"We're interested in taking our services down to the 0-3 (year-old) area, because we'd like to receive them into the Head Start program ready to learn," Cooper said.