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Regional preschool program getting $4.7M federal funds

Money means 90 preschooler slots will be restored

The region’s Head Start preschool program, which serves families in nine counties, will receive enough federal funding to bring back the 90 children lost to last year’s automatic federal budget cuts, officials say.

Head Start, administered by Rock Falls-based Tri-County Opportunities Council, will receive $4,743,943 in grant money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The agency’s fiscal year usually begins April 1, but federal budget woes have taken funding off schedule, requiring that it be prorated. The grant covers a funding period that runs from Tuesday through March 31, 2015.

The grant is Head Start’s only funding source, said Terri Lawrence, Tri-County president and CEO.

It has become much more competitive over the years.

“It used to be automatic, but every year you must compete for funding,” Lawrence said. “We have received it every year, but now there are 17,020 performance standards with very strict monitoring.”

Enabling the program to bring back those 90 children and return to its pre-sequestration enrollment was part of the grant proposal, Lawrence said. She believes this level of funding will accomplish that goal.

“We received a little more than last year, because we had funding reduced for sequestration,” Lawrence said. “This level of funding is comparable to 2 years ago, so we expect to be able to bring most, if not all, of those kids back.”

When Tri-County was started in 1965, it served only three counties. Head Start was added as a school-year program in 1978, and the agency’s reach gradually has expanded. With 230 employees, it now covers a 5,500-square-mile area.

It has been able to run smoothly in her 30-plus years with Tri-County, she said.

“We have satellite offices in Princeton and LaSalle, and things have worked well over all the years of expansion,” she said. “We have a good infrastructure in place.”

In announcing the grant Thursday, 17th District Congresswoman Cheri Bustos called the funding “an important investment in our region’s youth and the larger community”.

“[Thursday’s] grant will help children and families in our district get a jumpstart on a quality education and allow our young people to develop the skills they need to excel and be healthy and productive members of our communities,” Bustos said in a news release.

Tri-County Head Start serves more than 800 families in Lee, Whiteside, Ogle, Carroll, Bureau, LaSalle, Marshall, Putnam, and Stark counties.

The program provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent-involvement services to low-income children and their families. A minimum of 10 percent of the program slots are reserved for disabled children. Services are provided at the center and at the homes of participating families, within several time frames.

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