- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

House Republicans plan to introduce a Head Start reform bill today that makes the preschool program more academic and allows a few governors to manage it as part of their network of early education programs.

The bill also proposes that Head Start, which serves more than 900,000 low-income children, remain a part of the Department of Health and Human Services and receive a $17 million funding increase, to $6.87 billion a year, according to an outline obtained by The Washington Times.

The new emphasis on academics in Head Start, which also provides health, nutrition and social services, is based on data showing that as recently as 2001 Head Start graduates performed far below the national average in vocabulary, early writing and early mathematics.

“The simple truth is that children in Head Start are learning, but they aren’t learning as much as they deserve to be learning,” said Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce subcommittee on education reform, which wrote the bill.

The bill’s proposal to give governors control over Head Start is a significant change, since the program has been run locally throughout its 38-year history. Advocates have criticized this idea, saying many states are cutting funding for early education and that giving them control of Head Start only puts the program at risk.

Republicans say their bill addresses these concerns by requiring states seeking a Head Start demonstration project “to maintain or expand” their funding for early childhood education. States must also maintain the Head Start centers’ funding during the first year of implementation.

“If states are willing to make a commitment to funding early childhood education and maintaining high standards, then the federal government should be willing to give them the ability to coordinate Head Start with their own early childhood education programs,” said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Yesterday, Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and his party’s ranking member on the House education panel, said the Republican bill would turn Head Start into “a slush fund” for governors.

Head Start advocates, noting that this was the first Head Start reauthorization bill introduced without bipartisan support, said whatever came out of the House committee would be dead on arrival.

“The word is out, and no one is buying the big lie that the administration’s plan would somehow improve Head Start,” said Sarah Greene, president of the National Head Start Association.

According to the outline, the Head Start bill would:

• Strengthen Head Start’s academic standards and emphasize cognitive development and achievements in language, prereading and premathematics.

• “Preserve and extend” all Head Start’s health and nutrition services.

• Require all new Head Start teachers, within three years, to have an associate’s degree in early childhood education or a related field. Half of Head Start teachers must have bachelor’s degrees by 2008.

• Drop arbitrary “performance measures” for Head Start centers and replace them with a more straightforward system that measures children’s progress in school readiness.

• Earmark an additional $5 million to help eligible states coordinate Head Start with their state programs.

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