SIKESTON -- Parents as Teachers programs are just one of many state programs reeling from this year's budget cuts in education, leaving several school districts to feel the budget crunch.
Gretchen Berhorst, supervisor in Early Childhood Education at the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said she definitely thinks PAT programs statewide are feeling the $4.5 million loss this school year.
"If you look at Parents as Teachers to provide $32 million and then they cut $4.5 million that will not be reimbursed for a large number of services, they're going to see the cuts in their programs," Berhorst said.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requires all public school districts in Missouri to have a PAT program in place. Family participation in Parents as Teachers is voluntary and in most cases, free.
Families who enroll in the program receive personal visits with PAT-certified parent educators, group meetings for parents to enhance their parenting knowledge and periodic screening for early identification of developmental delays or health, vision and hearing problems.
Sikeston R-6 serves close to 500 children ages birth to 3 years and around 400 children ages 3-5 years with four full-time parent educators each carrying a case load of 100-110 families, noted the district's PAT educator Jenny Hobeck.
"Parent educators are a part of the school district, and we can make referrals and link parents to the schools. We are the first link to the schools for some families," Hobeck said.
PAT programs are part of many Even Start and other federal Title I programs, as well as Early Head Start and Head Start. Other program adaptations include those working with teen parents, parents of children with special needs, families living on American Indian reservations, homeless and formerly homeless families, those living on military bases and those in prison and in probation and parole systems. The program is also designed for center-based and in-home care providers.
Perhaps the cut creating the largest impact is that programs will no longer be reimbursed for screening services of children ages 3 to 5 years old, Berhorst said. The amount of the reimbursement is based on each program's quota set by the state, she explained.
For example, based on Sikeston's quota, in the past, they received $25 for every 3-to 5-year-old screened, and this year they will not, Hobeck said, adding that Sikeston screens hundreds of the children each spring.
"With no reimbursement for the screening, that's going to have a big impact on our program," Hobeck said.
It's very difficult when other areas are also being cut and it's hard to find those dollars to make up for that, Berhorst pointed out.
East Prairie R-2 PAT educator supervisor Patty Brown said East Prairie serves about 219 children ages 0-3 and 128 ages 3-5.
Last year the district served 178 children ages 3-5 and this year that number is down due to the budget cuts, Brown said.
"If there was no PAT, families would really miss the information and a lot of children who need services would not be detected as early as they are with PAT," Brown said. Brown also pointed out PAT is a link for people who aren't familiar with the area.
Amber Boyer, a single mother of two, found out about PAT from a friend who is in the program. Boyer moved with her now one-month old and a 20-month-old to East Prairie in April "So far it's been helping me out," Boyer said about the program. " Everybody's been nice to me. It's helped me out with diapers and other things I didn't know."
Berhorst said research exists that shows children in PAT/early childhood education programs are performing better academically in school than children who were not involved in those programs.
"If we didn't exist, we would be seeing way more problems," Hobeck pointed out. "Without PAT I think we would see a lot more delays in young children.
Meanwhile money matters aren't looking better for next year, either, Berhorst said. On Dec. 8, she attended a policy briefing in Columbia, where she learned more than likely there will be further cuts in education across the state and as much as $1 billion or more cut from all state programs.
"It was a pretty grim meeting," Berhorst sighed. "Hopefully things will be better. It's hard to say what's going to happen, but we've been hearing it will be even worse next year."