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CAO of Erie County receives $24 million for Head Start program

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The federal government has delivered millions of dollars to the local organization that oversees the Head Start program in Erie and Niagara Counties. But the head of that organization says even with that funding, Head Start is only serving a fraction of local children eligible for the program.

The Community Action Organization of Erie County is receiving approximately $24.2 million dollars from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services to continue its administration of Head Start and Early Head Start. The program is designed to help children living in poverty better prepare for the first years of school.

"What tends to happen with low-income and poor children is that they come from environments in which there is a very low level of oral literacy," said L. Nathan Hare, president and CEO of CAO of Erie County. "So they get to kindergarten knowing 400, 500, 600 words in an environment where it takes 3,000 to 5,000 words just to teach kindergarten alone."
Head Start was created in 1965 as part of then President Lyndon Johnson's so-called War on Poverty. Since then, research has determined that the first five years of a child's life are the most important in terms of mental and intellectual development. 
A vast majority of the money in the federal grant - about 80 percent as Hare estimated - will pay for instructors, while other portions of the money will cover the cost of social workers and food.
Locally, there are 26 centers serving nearly 2,200 children. Hare says that's only about 40 percent of the population that is eligible for Head Start in Erie and Niagara Counties. 
"There just isn't enough money available for us to serve all the people that should be served by this program," Hare said.
Those who do benefit from Head Start, Hare said, will be better prepared not just for entering school but for their lives years from now.
"When we study these children longitudinally, what we find is that these children have better outcomes in terms of getting married, staying married, staying out of jail, completing high school, going to college, getting into good careers, and so on," Hare said.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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