About 2,300 fewer children will be served by Head Start programs around the state because of the federal budget cuts that took effect earlier this month.

York County's Head Start program, which has 631 students, and programs around Pennsylvania will have to deal with the 5.1 percent funding cut included in the sequester, a $13.2 million hit that will cost 609 Head Start jobs.

That's the grim reality facing the federal early childhood education program for low-income families, said state executive director Blair Hyatt.

County-by-county cuts in enrollment and jobs are difficult to tell at this point, he said, since Head Starts have various budget year starting points.

Those that are already using their 2013 federal funding are hit hardest, he said, since they are already experiencing the cuts. York County's new budget doesn't start until June, according to local officials, so the impact and cutbacks would start sinking in then. Questions about the sequester were referred to Hyatt.

"We need more funds, not less," Hyatt said.

Program benefits: Hyatt said most people agree funding early childhood education helps reduce dropout rates, teen pregnancy, incarceration and other societal woes. Yet Head Start, which helps the families most in need, is facing cuts. York County's Head Start has a waiting list of hundreds of families.

"It doesn't make any sense," he said.

Hyatt said Head Start is likely the only option for its participating families who otherwise can't afford a quality early childhood education with trained instructors. It's Head Start, or nothing.

"We're concerned on both the big level ... and for the families," he said.

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com