- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2003

Congressional debate to renew the Head Start program is to be postponed until next year, but that hasn’t stopped congressional leaders from asking for an “expeditious” investigation into the program’s salary scandals.

In a letter sent before the Thanksgiving recess, four Republican leaders asked David Walker, comptroller general of the General Accounting Office (GAO), to examine the financial controls and program-monitoring practices of the 38-year-old federal preschool program for low-income children.

The GAO also should look at how the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) monitors Head Start agencies, said Tuesday’s letter, which asked for an “expeditious response.” It was signed by Republican Sens. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Reps. John A. Boehner of Ohio and Michael N. Castle of Delaware.

Members of Congress have become concerned about Head Start’s spending because of news reports about six-figure salaries and financial abuses of Head Start leaders in Texas, Missouri, South Carolina and Hawaii.

The National Head Start Association (NHSA) has countered that Congress is doing the program a disservice by focusing on isolated problems when the vast majority of Head Start directors and teachers are underpaid.

The average Head Start program director earns $53,114 a year — well below the $69,000 average annual salary of an elementary school principal — and 99 percent of Head Start program leaders are paid less than $100,000 a year, the NHSA said.

“The only real Head Start pay scandal today is the low salaries that Head Start teachers are paid — and would continue to be paid under the legislation now pending before the U.S. House and Senate,” said Sarah Greene, president of the NHSA, which represents some 2,500 Head Start programs.

The average Head Start teacher was paid $21,000 in the 2000-01 program year, compared with $43,000 earned by public school teachers, Ms. Greene said.

The House Head Start bill exacerbates the problem by requiring more Head Start teachers to have bachelor’s degrees without authorizing sufficient funding for college scholarships or higher Head Start salaries.

“Everyone supports the goal of higher degrees for Head Start teachers, but it is a cruel trick on Head Start teachers to create a mandate for higher educational achievement and then not provide the money to achieve it,” Ms. Greene said.

Most Head Start teachers who obtain degrees “will get lured away by higher public school salaries,” said Marge Stillwell, executive director of the Illinois Head Start Association.

When it resumes work on Head Start, Congress will have several issues to sort out, including whether to allow a few governors to take control of their Head Start programs.


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