Feds restore full funding for Navajo Head Start

Farmington, New Mexico (AP) November 2011

The federal government has decided to continue full funding for the Navajo Nation’s Head Start program.

The decision by a division of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department was announced by the tribe. It reverses an earlier decision by the agency to cut nearly in half the $29.3 million in federal funding the program receives every fiscal year by Nov. 1.

The Farmington Daily Times reports (http://bit.ly/tvG9mt ) that the program for pre-kindergartners on the reservation receives the grant funding to serve more than 4,000 children. But the program has only enrolled between 2,000 and 2,500 children for the past several years.

The program could lose future funding if it can’t fix deficiencies identified in a federal audit of the program in April 2010.

The Navajo Nation is finalizing an agreement with the federal government to maintain the funding for fiscal year 2012, tribal President Ben Shelly said in a statement.

The Nation has expressed concerns about the lack of consultation with the federal government about the proposed funding cuts.

The reduced funding “was completely inadequate and inappropriate given the size of the Navajo Head Start service population and geographical scale of the Navajo Nation,” Shelly’s statement said. “If the funding cut was put in place, one-third of Navajo Head Start employees would have been laid off, services would have been affected and efforts to rebuild Navajo Head Start would have been canceled.”

The proposed budget cuts were just the latest troubles for the Navajo program.

The program’s federal funding was suspended in 2006 after 51 employees with criminal histories, including murder, spousal abuse and child abuse, were found to have been hired without first having to submit to criminal background checks.

The Nation still faces possible termination of its grant after the 2010 review found 11 deficiencies and 18 non-compliance issues, Sherrick Roanhorse, chief of staff for the Navajo Office of the President and Vice President wrote in a memo.

Federal reviewers visited the program again in June and September, but deficiencies were not corrected, Roanhorse wrote.

The Navajo Nation plans to hire a consultant to restructure its Head Start program, according to Roanhorse’s memo.

Navajo Head Start, the largest American Indian Head Start program in the country, has served Navajo youths since 1965. But it has not seen full enrollment since 2001.