Court restores full funding for Navajo Head Start

Court restores full funding for Navajo Head Start

WINDOW ROCK

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services must restore the $7.3 million it cut from Navajo Head Start’s budget and institute an appeal process in the event the Navajo Nation wants to protest future cuts, a U.S. district court ruled Tuesday.

People walk across empty parking lot to new building.

Navajo Times | File
After a 20-year wait, Black Mesa Chapter finally got a Head Start building this past summer.

It’s been an uphill battle for Navajo leadership and Navajo Head Start for a few months after the U.S. Office of Head Start reduced Navajo Head Start funds from the original $23 million to $15.7 million with little notice, based on a drop in the Navajo program’s enrollment.

“The court granted the Navajo Nation’s position that the national Head Start did not notify the Navajo Nation (of) its decreased funding,” said Health, Education and Human Servicers Committee Chair Jonathan Hale in a phone interview. “There should have been some kind of consultation. They shouldn’t have done that.”

Navajo Head Start has been facing issues for quite some time. Last July, the program’s director, Sharon Singer, was dismissed after an internal investigation revealed she had grossly mismanaged federal funds. Finding new leadership was a struggle. But it was the decreased enrollment that led to the funding cut, as funding is based on the number of students.

Not only did the U.S. Office of Head Start want to decrease funding they also wanted to decrease the Navajo program’s enrollment quota from 2,150 to 1,309, which would have meant a permanent funding decrease.

The feds warned the Nation about the impending cut in a Dec. 19, 2016 letter to President Russell Begaye. Linda K. Smith, deputy assistant secretary for Early Childhood Development at the Administration for Children and Families, stated that funds for Navajo Head Start could be reduced if nothing was done about the under-enrollment problem.


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About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council, Business, Fort Defiance Agency, New Mexico State politics and Art/fashion. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at abecenti@navajotimes.com.