- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

The Head Start reauthorization bill upcoming in the House will probably contain key Bush administration reforms, though not exactly what the White House has proposed, a House Republican said yesterday.”There’s still room for improvement” in the $6.6 billion federal Head Start program, said Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce subcommittee on education reform, which is writing the legislation.Ticking off several Bush administration proposals, Mr. Castle yesterday told a Head Start seminar hosted by the Brookings Institution that improving Head Start’s educational quality “will be a major focus” of the reform. Gains are needed in Head Start students’ vocabulary, writing and math. Head Start’s renowned social, health and nutrition services to low-income 3- and 4-year-olds must also be maintained, and Congress should set higher professional standards for Head Start staff, Mr. Castle said.But he hedged on the Bush administration’s most-debated proposal — allowing governors to redesign Head Start programs when doing the same to their own early-childhood-education programs.Under current law, Head Start programs, which involve nearly 1 million children, operate outside state control. Congress should be able to create a mechanism that would allow for “collaboration” with state programs, Mr. Castle said.The question, he said, is, “How do we do it? Perhaps we do it differently than what the White House is proposing,” but “to not have that coordination is a disaster for kids.” “But what are we coordinating with?” Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and ranking member of the House education panel, asked at the Brookings forum.Many states don’t have stellar track records organizing their own preschool programs, he said. “Why are we taking the best program we have in the nation, with the best outcomes we have, and why are we deciding we’re going to turn it over to the poorest programs?”Coordination is fine — several states are already collaborating with Head Start under current law, said Mr. Miller. But given all the “dysfunctional” childhood programs out there, he said, “Maybe they should be coordinating with Head Start” instead of the other way around.Bush administration domestic-policy aide Margaret Spellings said the collaboration plan is aimed only at governors who want to tackle it.The problem, she said, is that “there is no requirement for Head Start to coordinate” with a state’s school system or other child care programs. As a result, when state officials ask Head Start programs to meet statewide measures or work with a program, Head Start leaders say they only have to meet federal standards.

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