That was the visual presented Monday to symbolize the impact of sequestration on Durham's Early Head Start program and Operation Breakthrough. The seats at the Jim and Carolyn Hunt Child Care Resource Center represented how many students had to be eliminated from the program because of mandated federal budget cuts.
Advocates with Durham's Partnership for Children said the empty seats show missed opportunities.
"It means they're not gonna get vision screenings. They're not gonna get nutrition. They're not gonna get early learning experiences. They're not gonna get screened for disabilities or learning readiness. The list goes on," explained Melissa Mishoe with the Partnership for Children.
Those services and more are critical for families at risk. Last year, about a million children nationwide got help through the Head Start program. Thanks to sequestration, 57,000 places were cut this year. $400 million has been slashed from the program's $8 billion budget.
"These children will be denied the critical support they need to move on a path toward a vibrant future. Our teachers and staff are motivated and committed to serving vulnerable children, but these cuts have shaken the program to its core. We're not alone. Head Start programs nationwide are being forced to make heart-wrenching decisions that will slam shut the window of opportunity for those most in need," said Mishoe.