Rep. Donna Edwards (D) along with other government officials in Prince Georges County are troubled by the Health Department’s termination of funding for Head Start. (Courtesy photo)
U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards recently articulated her views on the ongoing flap regarding the loss of federal funding for the Prince George’s County Head Start program. Edwards, a Democrat, represents a large portion of Prince George’s County and part of Anne Arundel County in the U.S. House of Representatives. The representative made her comments on Aug. 26, a day after the Prince George’s County Board of Education decided not to appeal the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to terminate the county’s funding for Head Start.
“For more than 50 years, Head Start programs have given our most vulnerable children a true head start in life,” she said in a statement obtained by the AFRO. “This program is one of our nation’s best investments in early education, providing children with quality education in a nurturing, supportive environment, and connecting them and their parents with health, nutrition, and social services. However, the partnership between federal funding and local coordination relies heavily on the oversight and accountability of our local school systems and its leaders on behalf of the children and families they serve.”
Two weeks ago, it was reported by the media that the funding loss due to the Prince George’s County public school system’s inability to address child abuse practices by Head Start staff such as making a child clean up his urine, ordering preschoolers to hold heavy books above their heads and a child walking home from school not accompanied by an adult or an older minor. Prince George’s County Board of Education member Edward Burroughs III (District 8) told the AFRO that he, and four of his colleagues, Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5), Sonya Williams (District 9), Zabrina Epps (District 1), and Beverly Anderson (county executive appointee), have publicly called for the resignation of the board’s chairman Segun C. Eubanks (county executive appointee) and vice chairman Carolyn M. Boston (District 6). “The leadership of our board didn’t tell us anything substantive about what was going on with Head Start when we first got the letter in April,” Burroughs said. “All board members had the right to know what was going on.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III stands by Eubanks and Boston and on Aug. 29, assured parents of Head Start students that the program will continue despite the termination of the $6.4 million grant. However, Edwards said that the Head Start controversy is an indication of a deeper problem in the school system.
“They are indicative of a systemic breakdown within the entire leadership chain that has placed children in danger and now jeopardizes the education prospects for 932 children,” the representative said. “I urge any other families who have experienced such mistreatment to come forward and report their children’s experiences so that a thorough, independent investigation can root out bad actors, at every level of leadership. Anyone who ignored a problem, minimized abuse or in any way interfered with the investigation of allegations of abuse and neglect of our children must ago.”
Joe Brice is the president of the Prince George’s County Civic Federation, and is critical of Baker’s past attempts to get rid of an elected school board. Brice agrees with Edwards that school system staff must be held accountable for abusive actions.
“Heads need to roll on this,” Brice told the AFRO. “The heads of Eubanks and Boston should roll and those down the line who abused children should have their heads roll, also. Prince George’s County is a poor county. We need every bit of that $6.4 million that we can get.”
Edwards doesn’t blame the HHS for the Head Start strife, saying “our federal partners are doing exactly what they are supposed to do and working to protect children who are being put at risk.” She called on Baker to ensure that there is funding for the program for the “entire 2016-2017 school year.”
Burroughs said there are negotiations between a private contractor from Denver and school system leaders to take over the program. Brice notes that if those negotiations fail, then the board of education will have to find the money to keep Head Start going.
“There will be cuts in the school system’s $1.6 billion budget and where will they fall?” Brice asked rhetorically. “Will they have to furlough public school employees? Will they have to cut funding of school activities? This is an example of an incompetent, screwed up political process where the citizens are kept in the dark and the children will