LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Two months after asking the Office of Head Start to continue funding its Head Start and Early Head Start programs, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted Tuesday to relinquish its $15 million grant for the 2018-19 school year.

The unanimous vote comes as the Department of Health and Human Services prepares to submit its final report to the school board this week, according to an agency spokesman. The agency blistered Jefferson County Public Schools’ Head Start and Early Head Start programs in an August report that detailed 23 incidents of student abuse, student neglect and staffers failing to report incidents for up to two weeks.

JCPS was recently notified by the Office of Head Start that a single incident could jeopardize its grant status. On March 27, the school board approved an application to refund its grant for $15.7 million.

Pollio told the board Tuesday that the number of reported Head Start allegations has dropped through the year and that the district hoped “to get down to zero.” JCPS has made progress through its corrective action plan implemented after the Head Start report’s release, he said.

“There was a clear concern about the future of Head Start with us, so I wouldn’t say that we weren’t concerned about that, and that’s when we began to look at alternatives to make that we didn’t lose any seats for kids because that was a main concern for us,” Pollio told WDRB News after Tuesday’s board meeting.

“And that’s when we started looking at ways we thought it could be better, becoming more focused along with a partnership with Head Start that wouldn’t be under the JCPS umbrella, so we’ve had a lot of conversations about that and felt, in conjunction with them, that this would probably be the best way to go.”

The district expects to spend about $8 million to expand its early childhood program for 3- and 4-year-old kids eligible for Head Start next school year, and officials said they anticipate they’ll be able to get more children ready for kindergarten. They said reducing the number of early childhood centers from 62 to 41 would not affect the number of spots available to eligible kids.

Pollio said JCPS expects to continue to partner with an external Head Start provider in the community, similar to Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington.

“That’s where I see us actually increasing the amount of kids in Jefferson County that are serviced through all of the programs together,” he said.

Early childhood staff at JCPS won’t be let go with the shift, but others employed outside the district may not be as fortunate.

Sammy Jones, a family advocate at Shine Early Learning, told the board that not only could she and others like her lose their grant-funded jobs, but the proposal could also hurt marginalized families.

Her job involves helping families as their kids prepare to enter kindergarten, which can include not only ensuring children have up-to-date medical care and evaluations, but also connecting parents with emergency food and clothing options.

“There is no clear-cut plan for these families for years proceeding 2019,” Jones told the board. “I fear that JCPS will not be able to provide families with services such as the ones I have spoken about.”

“By assuming full fiscal responsibility and working off the $8 million general fund, many of these families will not be given the support they need, which will negatively impact these children and families across Louisville,” she said. “These are important, comprehensive services that I feel our children and families are entitled to receive.”

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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