The Orange County Head Start program for early childhood education has received $6.4 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its 2017-18 program, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy announced Thursday.

The money is the first federal payment toward a projected $12.7 million fiscal year allocation for Orange County’s Head Start program, according to Head Start Director Division Manager Sonya Hill. The balance of the funds will be awarded when available and is subject to final appropriation for the Head Start program in 2018.

Head Start promotes school readiness in children from low-income families up to age five by supporting their development in a comprehensive way.

“As a mother, I know how critical the early part of a child’s life is to his or her long-term development and success. This investment in our children and our community is welcome news,” Murphy said in a news release from her office. “Studies show that strong investments in early childhood education ensure greater opportunities for children, reduce crime and incarceration rates, and strengthen the quality of life for all. I’ll continue to protect Head Start so that all children, regardless of their socio-economic status, have an opportunity to achieve their dreams.”

The Orange County government operates multiple Head Start centers in the Orlando metropolitan area. They are typically based in schools, community centers, or child care centers. At these sites, families can access a wide range of services, including early learning, health care services, and parent-child counseling.

Murphy has made federal support for early childhood development one of her top priorities in Congress, according to the release from her office. She introduced House Resolution 3632, known as the Promoting Affordable Childcare for Everyone Act or the PACE Act, with U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Kansas Republican, to make child care more affordable for more working families, with improvements to the child and the dependent care tax credit.

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