Congress Turns Its Back on Rural America

  • submit to reddit

For fifteen years in Neodesha, Kansas (population 2,486) there were only two options for early childhood education services in town: a program for at-risk 4-year-olds operated by the school district, and a Head Start Center for children ages 0 through 5 run by the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program (SEK-CAP).

SEK-CAP offers a range of services to twelve counties, responding to the housing, utilities, transportation, employment, medical care, child care, education and nutrition needs of low-income people in southeast Kansas. The counties have a combined population of approximately 192,000 people and the child poverty rate is nearly 26 percent — an increase of 13 percent in the past year. The past three years have also seen a rise in unemployment, food and housing insecurity, as well as agricultural and natural disasters.

Due to sequester cuts, SEK-CAP decided in May that it could no longer afford to operate the Head Start Center in Neodesha, which served 17 children and their families, and employed five staff members. The rental and maintenance costs of the building made this closure the obvious choice for the agency to find the savings forced upon it by Congress.

Becky Gray, director of research and planning for SEK-CAP, said the affect of the cuts is far more significant than “it might appear on paper.”

“When you’re talking about people’s lives, and their ability to maintain gainful employment, or ensure that their children are receiving age-appropriate care and intellectual stimulation, then the cuts become incredibly deep and incredibly apparent,” said Gray.

In addition to instruction at the Center, teachers made monthly home visits to work on family and education goals. Every child had an individualized education plan based on an assessment of his or her needs.

“My oldest son struggled with gross-motor skills for a while, so we focused on that and got him where he needs to be,” said Amanda Tompkins, chair of the SEK-CAP Policy Council and a Head Start parent who sent three children through the program. “My daughter was advanced in her speaking ability, so the teacher gave me tools so that I could [help] her grow that skill. The program has taught me how to be a mom and a teacher for my children.”

Linda Broyles, director of early childhood services for SEK-CAP, said that Tompkins’ experience is typical for a Head Start family.

“It’s more than just a preparation for the educational system, [it’s] comprehensive family services,” said Broyles. “That means working with the whole family to set and attain goals, increase positive behaviors, establish preventative health care and create a lifelong love of learning and education.”

“There are no other means of comprehensive family-centered services in the town,” said Kristie Groff, a teacher at the center for twelve years.

The sequestration cuts in southeastern Kansas have had somewhat of a domino effect. SEK-CAP also offered home-based services to 10 children and their families in the town of Parsons (pop. 10,454) in neighboring Labette County, where the child poverty rate for children under age 5 is over 31 percent. These home-based slots are now going to be moved to Neodesha — to partly compensate for the loss of the Head Start Center — because there are other early childhood education alternatives in Parsons.

“Some of those alternatives might be cost prohibitive for some families, but the fact is Neodesha needs the [home-based program] more now. It was just our best possible fix,” said Gray.

A teacher visited the 10 families in Parsons once a week, for an hour and a half, to provide age-appropriate activities and referral services to address other family needs such as transportation difficulties or a desire to pursue continuing education. The program also offered “socialization opportunities” twice per month. These events usually included nutrition education and preparation of a healthy snack or meal; age-appropriate games; and time for the adults to break off and hold a meeting.

“It’s an opportunity to train parents about the program, and they can share their questions or concerns, so it’s fantastic for communication and a sense of community,” said Tompkins. “And if you’re a stay-at-home mom and don’t have an outlet, these daytime play dates are pretty important so you don’t tear your hair out.”

Gray said the home-based services are especially important for parents struggling with transportation and employment, and sometimes education.

“The focus on health and nutrition leads to budgeting food dollars, which leads to budgeting your household resources,” she said. “These are the kinds of supports that help families move out of poverty.”

As early childhood education services are lost for low-income people with limited options in towns like Parsons and Neodesha, the concern is that too many parents are turning to “the house down the street” to watch their kids, said Gray.

“Often times that is more child care than early childhood development,” said Gray. It’s also more often than not an unlicensed facility, which is why it’s affordable. “In a licensed facility we know there is appropriate safety and hygiene, and there are age-appropriate, developmentally appropriate activities. We don’t necessarily know that those things are in place in an unlicensed facility.”

Gray said that the sequester cuts in some cases are more significant in rural areas — where families might have to travel “forty miles one way” — than in “a larger metropolitan city, where two or three blocks away there might be another option.”

“Rural America often gets overlooked. We know Kansas is referred to as a ‘Flyover State’,” said Gray. “But there are a lot of people here, and a lot of people in poverty.  Sequestration is just one cut. It’s the impact of that steady erosion of financial resources that is much greater in rural communities — because there are far fewer resources.”

Tompkins believes the long-term costs of these cuts are being overlooked by policymakers.

“I see all of the benefits of Head Start services — early education, early intervention, early detection for children ages 0 to 5,” she said. “The people who are making these decisions — they just see the numbers that cross their desk.”



  • submit to reddit
  • Anonymous

    ONE goo thing about sequestration is due to the lowered numbers of police officers on the hiways, you can totally discard the speed limits and drive however you want!

  • Anonymous

    Hey, maybe this ties in with the other hare-brained scheme they have: to charge us rural folks extra taxes for the miles we drive. Of course I won’t go along with that until they provide us with public transportation (which won’t happen until the train lobby can outspend the car and oil lobbies).

  • Tawny

    Thanks for shedding additional “light” to the real-life impacts of the sequester. I’m going to make sure each of Kansas’ federal legislators receives a copy of this post.

  • davidp

    I saw on the news that Hillary Clinton is making this an issue with her hopes for 2016.

  • Anonymous

    This will have long-term repercussions, leading to more crime and less education.

  • Anonymous

    Even government research shows that any benefit gained by kids in Head Start is lost by the 4th when kids who had no such opportunities perform equally in school. Maybe those “evidence-based” liberals should start making decisions based on evidence? Dare to dream.

  • Anonymous

    After WW1 a thoroughly alarmed military leadership met with Senators, Representatives, President Wilson and the executive branch because so many of the respondents to the draft were illiterate and 4F due to childhood nutrient deficiencies that the military felt they could not defend the country against invasion.

    From these meetings came a concerted effort towards childhood supplemental food
    programs and childhood education that became firmly established, institutionally supported and unified by FDR.

    But those who forget the past are doomed to relive it; and the sequestration was intentionally crafted to de-fund any program viewed thru a Social Darwinist’s
    Ideological Lens as going to the “takers” of Ann Rand fictional writings.

    The fiscally miserly and morally bankrupt in government today know the price of everything and the value of nothing; pennywise and pound foolish.

    Much hue and cry is raised about some poor person unjustly receiving enough to live on from the public charity. Little is done to address those who make in 1 second the same amount with no discernible effort and many times at great cost to society at large. Are there no work houses? Orphanages? Poor Farms?

    But people have messy complicated lives beyond any single charity or institutions capabilities or competencies. Only a federal government is capable of reaching over regional and political boundaries to serve the general population’s needs despite prejudices. Only the federal government in accordance to our Constitution and Bill of rights can address the needs of the desperate, destitute, and downtrodden. Only the Federal Government can create and maintain a level playing field to maintain stabilities in markets (which enhance stable employment).

    But the Mammon worshipers have bestowed the Constitutional rights of men upon the Government granted construct of the limited liability; Corporation(s), while virtually removing the Civil rights of the actual humans by ignoring violations and failing to prosecute. Laws and Justice are for sale to the highest bidder.

    Goldman toxic CDO’s, CDS, HSBC, LIBOR, BOA, robot-Signing, un-regulated derivatives, it drones on – law breaking on a historical massive scale that has crippled the world economy with virtually no consequences to the perpetrators.

    And the poor are blamed for their poverty as personal “responsibility” and individual “consequences” from “Poor choices” (not accident of birth).

  • Michael Varian Daly

    Every piece of GOP ‘social legislation’ could be titled the “Let The Useless Eaters Die Act”.

  • Paula Steiner

    It figures…the right wing remembers and courts their rural constituency every 4 or 2 years, and throws ’em under the bus the rest of the time.

  • Gordo

    Oh yea, they just write more tickets to make up the difference

  • John MacEnulty

    The really sad thing is that the folks affected by this will still somehow blame the liberals for giving away their money to illegal immigrants/minorities/muslims/etc.

  • Tyrone Thomas

    I noticed that usual efforts to help the poor and impoverished is to feed the hungry or ask for charitable donations to provide services. It should be obvious by now that while this is good, it has not and will not change anything. Give a man a fish to feed him for a day..but .teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime
    It is time to try something new and innovative. the “United Shared Savings Network” is very different, we do not ask for handouts or charity, but instead we will be providing a way for poor people to help them self and each other by participating in a system of generating income from the money that they are already spending. There is a famous saying that the rich make their money work for them and the poor work for the money…. why can’t we join them?

    Guess what America!… the “United Shared Savings Network” allows the the poor and everyone else to do the same.

    What if I had a way to reduce or solve the problems of welfare, food stamps and poverty? Would you be interested in becoming part of the solution?

    Want to know more….contact Tyrone Thomas Jr. at: