- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

A Republican-backed Head Start reauthorization bill appeared headed for passage late last night after a passionate and sometimes acrimonious debate.

Debate on the bill was expected to last into the night, but Republicans said they were confident they had enough votes to pass the School Readiness Act.

Democrats have steadfastly opposed the measure, which would require Head Start centers to step up literacy services, require more teachers to have degrees, and allow as many as eight states unprecedented control over the federal preschool program for low-income children.

Since the creation of Head Start in 1965, its funds have flowed directly to local grant recipients, bypassing state officials.

Republicans said that Head Start, which often is the only preschool program that operates outside state control, is overdue for modernization.

“Today is 2003, not 1965,” said Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican and author of the bill.

The bill strengthens the academic components of Head Start, ensures that well-qualified teachers are helping Head Start children prepare for school, and encourages coordination between Head Start and successful state programs, said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“These changes are badly needed,” he said, adding that under current law, children “are not getting an even start, much less a head start.”

Democrats began their debate with more than two dozen members, mostly women, lined up in the House well to say the bill would dismantle Head Start with dire consequences.

“It will rob single moms of the very best early childhood education for their children,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Rep. George Miller, California Democrat, denounced the eight-state demonstration program.

“It doesn’t matter if you call it a block grant, a pilot program, a demonstration program or an ‘experiment,’” he said. “The bottom line is that it begins to dismantle Head Start.”

“We bypassed the governors on purpose to keep them from snatching the money,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat and a former Head Start teacher. Now Republicans want to give the states the money, she said, calling the effort “shameful.”

“You break my heart.”

In response, Rep. John L. Mica, a Florida Republican who decried the bureaucracy in Head Start, called the line of Democrats a “parade of mediocrity.”

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat, said “Republicans really know how to kick a kid when he’s down.”

He cited the Democratic complaint about eligibility for the child tax credit and wondered aloud, “Maybe they have a bill to outlaw stickball too.”

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