- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

Legislation introduced last week in the House would increase competition for Head Start grants and require recipients to align themselves with state academic guidelines.

The School Readiness Act of 2005 renews for five years the $6.7 billion-a-year Head Start program, which provides educational, nutritional, medical and social services to 900,000 low-income children.

The bill was introduced Thursday by Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, both members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The legislation — which omits the hotly contested idea of allowing several governors to take control of Head Start centers in their states — was met with cautious optimism by House Democrats and Head Start’s trade group.

The bill “is a welcome change” and one that “could earn bipartisan support,” said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and ranking minority member of the committee.

Sarah Greene, president and chief executive of the National Head Start Association, called the bill an “encouraging” step, but wanted to reserve judgment until the group studies the legislation.

House Republicans have been alarmed by the low academic achievements of Head Start graduates. They also have been unhappy with Head Start’s lack of cooperation with other state preschool programs, which often serve the same poor populations, and with fiscal mismanagement of the program. Head Start, which was created in the 1960s, has an unusual federal-to-grantee funding process that bypasses state bureaucracies.

The bill would:

• Rate Head Start grantees on their merits and require them to compete for grants again when they come up for renewal.

• Require grantees to make public annual reports on their finances and hire experienced chief financial officers.

• Require grantees to align their educational programs with state-developed academic content standards and actively participate in partnerships with local school districts.

“This legislation will increase competition for Head Start grants, increase the role of states and local communities, and help to ensure federal Head Start funds are used for their intended purpose: preparing disadvantaged children for kindergarten,” Mr. Boehner said.

In July 2003, the House passed a Head Start renewal bill, but only by a single vote. A Senate committee unanimously passed a Head Start bill later that year, but the bill never reached the Senate floor for a vote.

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