- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

A Senate Republican proposal for Head Start tightens oversight of the federal preschool program but doesn’t allow any states full control over it, according to an outline of the plan circulated late last week.

The plan, which is expected to be considered tomorrow by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, differs significantly from a House bill that was approved this summer with only Republican votes.

The House bill would allow up to eight states to apply for control of their Head Start programs in order to better coordinate early education networks.

This “eight-state experiment” is rejected bitterly by the National Head Start Association (NHSA), which represents Head Start grant recipients.

The Senate proposal does not allow for state takeovers of Head Start. However, it requires Head Start grant recipients to consult with states on school readiness standards and urges them to align their programs voluntarily with state networks.

The Senate proposal also caps Head Start employees’ salaries to no more than the salary of the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is $171,900.

The salary cap proposal comes in the wake of news stories about Head Start officials receiving salaries of $200,000 to $300,000 and accusations of financial mismanagement in a few programs.

Earlier this month, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, asked HHS to review all Head Start administrative spending.

A spokeswoman for the NHSA said the group was reviewing the new Senate plan and wasn’t ready to comment on its proposals. However, earlier this month, NHSA President Sarah Greene said that according to 2002 data from 2,501 Head Start programs, the average Head Start director’s salary was $53,101.52.

Senate Democrats on the health and education committee also are reviewing the Republican plan. Ranking minority member Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, has said: “I am pleased that the Head Start bill we will debate … does not include the president’s block grant proposal, but we still have a long way to go before we have a bill that nearly every Democrat will support. We have had good bipartisan negotiations so far, and I remain hopeful that we will have a bill … that everyone can be proud of.”

The Senate Republican proposal also:

• Sets new educational standards to ensure that low-income preschoolers gain early learning skills.

• Allows HHS to take back Head Start funds from underenrolled centers and redistribute the money to Head Start centers with waiting lists.

• Requires all Head Start teachers to have at least an associate degree by 2009.

• Requires unannounced inspections of Head Start centers.

• Requires regular reviews of every Head Start center.

• Requires governors to approve applications for new Head Start grant recipients.

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