In the early morning hours on Friday, Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids took a tour of Growing Futures Early Education Center in Overland Park.
The nonprofit organization run through Head Start serves 223 children up to the age of 5 and their families in Johnson County by providing early childhood education, health nutrition, social services, mental health, parent education and more.
Head Start is a program partially funded by the federal government that serves low-income families, all of whom live at 100% of the federal poverty level.
Davids’ tour comes at a time in which Head Start centers across the country have received an increase in funds as roughly $11 billion of the $1.5 trillion bipartisan spending package, which was signed on March 15, went towards the program.
However, Growing Futures director of development and community relations Jessica Hoffman said the increase in funds is still not enough to sustain the demand for this type of service in the Johnson County area.
Hoffman said Growing Futures was hoping to receive the maximum 5% increase in their federal funding this year, but the education center only received a 2.3% increase.
“Even though it’s kind of a record year, we’ve got 7% inflation right now. We’ve got a 17% increase in rent in just the Kansas City area,” she said.
In addition to a lack of federal funding, Hoffman said the facility also has to struggle to match a portion of funding for the center.
Due to being only partially funded by the federal government, for every $100 Growing Futures receives from the government, the center is required to raise an additional $25.
Hoffman said the money is raised through “foundations, individual donors, corporations, sponsorships, fundraisers, things of that nature.”
During the tour, Davids also had the opportunity to learn about other struggles Growing Futures faces, including a lack of teachers.
“The requirements are so high for our teachers, but the pay is so low,” Hoffman said.
Teachers at the center start at a rate of $12 an hour, but they are required to have go through rigorous educational training, which oftentimes includes receiving a bachelor’s degree, Hoffman said.
Davids’ tour ended with her reading the book “Kindness is my Superpower” by Alicia Ortego to a handful of students enrolled at Growing Futures.
However, it was while she was waiting for the kids to come join her in the school’s small gymnasium for story time, that Davids spent time reflecting on the importance of Growing Futures and the Head Start program.
“My mom went back to work like six weeks after having me. Being a single parent, it is places like these she sent me during that time,” Davids said. “It is literally the way so many people are able to do their jobs.”
Growing Futures opened its doors in 1965 as a Head Start summer enrichment program for 17 preschool-aged children from low-income families, making it one of the original Head Start programs.
Nowadays, the center regularly maintains a wait list of more than 100 children.