Put away your presidential early learning initiative celebration swag: sequestration is coming to crash the party. Against the backdrop of an unprecedented commitment to comprehensive, birth-to-five early learning, Congress appears poised to allow deep, indiscriminate cuts to hit the programs that serve the very children and families the president’s proposal seeks to help.

Under the deal to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” approved by Congress and President Obama in early January, early childhood education programs got a reprieve from the largest across-the-board cuts in history, but they’re not safe from the chopping block. With no deal to avert the process in sight, sequestration is set to begin to take effect on March 1.

Keep in mind that sequestration was supposed to be so bad, its broad cuts so blunt, that legislators would have no choice but to cut a deal to avert it. Just how bad is it? Projections show that under sequestration, roughly 70,000 children nationwide would lose access to Head Start, and providers could be forced to lay off more than 14,000 Head Start personnel. Approximately 30,000 low-income children and parents would lose child care assistance, and many more would see a reduction in services. Though it’s unlikely that cuts will take effect all at once, there’s no doubt that the impact will be devastating if sequestration is allowed to continue for any amount of time. The Department of Health and Human Services will give providers more detailed information about what sequestration will mean for them, most likely very shortly before cuts are set to take place on March 1.

UPDATE: The White House has released state-by-state estimates on how sequestration could impact programs that can be viewed here.

With early learning in the national spotlight and members of Congress back home until Monday, it’s time to highlight how Head Start and child care benefit children and families in their districts. Use this handy toolkit to frame your story and reach out. Let your member of Congress know that Head Start and child care make a real difference in the lives of their constituents, and urge him or her to consider carefully the short- and long-term economic and social benefits that quality early childhood education programs bring to our entire society.

The message is clear: at a time when legislators left, right, and center are trumpeting the benefits of quality early childhood education, cuts that deny access and curtail efforts to improve quality in existing early learning programs just don’t make sense.