- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

A Bush administration proposal to give states more control of the federal Head Start preschool program is a call to arms for Head Start advocates and a welcome reform for others.
President Bush wants to give states the option "to better align their state-funded preschool programs, child care programs and Head Start," Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, said this week.
The goal is to prepare all children to succeed in school, Mr. Horn said. However, many states have inefficient preschool programs, in part because Head Start operates independently and even competes with state programs.
Under the Bush proposal, states that want control of Head Start must submit a plan that must be approved by the heads of HHS and the Education Department. States must also maintain their portion of Head Start funding and serve the same number of 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families.
The Bush proposal to relocate Head Start to the Education Department in fiscal 2005 reflects the new focus on early education, Mr. Horn said.
Education reformer Diane Ravitch welcomes the push for education.
"After nearly 40 years and many billions of dollars, Head Start children still begin kindergarten far behind children from middle-class homes on measures of school readiness," said Miss Ravitch, a research professor at New York University.
One 1998 evaluation of Head Start showed a typical student entering Head Start couldn't identify a single letter of the alphabet, but at the end of the year, "the same child could identify only one or two letters and had learned only 11 new words," she said.
"Head Start children were not learning these skills because their teachers were not teaching them," she said, adding that the program's placement under HHS illustrates its "isolation from educational goals."
To Head Start advocates, however, the Bush proposal is a declaration of war.
"The whole history of Head Start is one battle after another. Don't give up now; the fight has just begun," Yale University child development professor Edward Zigler told a cheering crowd of Head Start program leaders at a recent Capitol Hill briefing.
"Don't be bamboozled" about the plans to move Head Start to the Education Department, said Mr. Zigler, who helped create Head Start in the 1960s. The Education Department doesn't have the infrastructure to run a big program like Head Start, he said. That means they will "undoubtedly turn Head Start into a block-grant program and give it to the states."
Head Start always has been a comprehensive program, with health and nutrition services, plus education, said Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat and former Head Start teacher. Moving Head Start to the Education Department means "throwing out all we've learned about dealing with the whole child," she said. "We must resist it, resist it, resist it."
The $6.5 billion a year Head Start program, which serves 900,000 children, must be reauthorized this year. Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican and head of the House Education and the Workforce subcommittee on education reform, has called for increasing Head Start's educational focus while preserving its nonacademic services.

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