- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

A vote on a Republican-backed Head Start bill will be held next week instead of today because too many lawmakers are out of town, House Republican leaders said yesterday.

House Democratic leaders, however, jumped on the announcement, saying that Republicans pulled the bill Wednesday night to avoid “a very embarrassing defeat” on the House floor.

“Our whip count showed the House Democrats were united against this bill, and we have every reason to believe that a significant number of Republicans believed this was a very flawed bill and were ready to oppose it,” said House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

Spokesmen for Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which recently passed the measure, said yesterday that the floor vote on the bill had not been canceled or dropped, but was simply delayed.

At least 12 Republicans were scheduled to be absent today, said Jessica Incitto, spokeswoman for House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican. “As Mr. Blunt says, we’re working with only a 12-vote margin and … when you’re missing 12 members of the conference on a contentious bill, it makes it difficult. So it had to be postponed,” she said.

“This bill is in serious trouble, and it should be,” said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“There is a massive gap between how the Republicans have described this bill and what is actually in it,” Mr. Miller said yesterday. More than 100 education specialists, parent and teacher groups, newspaper editorial boards and state and local politicians oppose the Republican bill, he added.

Head Start reform has become a battleground primarily because of a Bush administration proposal to allow a few states control of the 38-year-old War on Poverty program, which serves more than 900,000 low-income children at a cost of $6.6 billion a year.

Republicans say that despite Head Start’s substantial funding, disadvantaged children leave the program with far-below-average scores in preschool academic skills.

In addition, states attempting to coordinate their preschool programs, particularly those that serve low-income communities, have reported being rebuffed by Head Start grantees, which operate as independent programs.

The National Governors Association noted the problem last year when it approved a policy statement asking that Head Start be “part of a collaborative effort to create a more integrated, cost-efficient system of early care and education for children.”

To address this, the Republican Head Start bill allows up to eight states to seek federal approval to blend local Head Start programs into their pre-existing preschool networks. The bill has “rock-solid protections” for current Head Start grantees to prevent misuse of the funds, Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, said in a letter to colleagues this week.

However, the idea of encroaching on Head Start’s long-standing independence is an anathema to Head Start advocates, who note that Head Start was designed to bypass governors and give funds directly to local grantees.

The Republican bill would “dismantle” this arrangement and destroy the program, says the National Head Start Association, a nonprofit group that represents more than 2,500 Head Start programs. The NHSA has allies in the Congressional Black Caucus, National Organization for Women and United Way of America.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. More importantly, if it ain’t broke, don’t break it,” said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, a private children’s advocacy group.

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