- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

The House yesterday passed a Head Start bill with only modest Democratic support because the bill contained a new measure on faith-based hiring practices.

The bill, which renews the popular, 40-year-old preschool program for nearly 1 million low-income children, passed 231-184, with support from 23 Democrats. Ten Republicans and one independent joined 173 Democrats in voting against it.

Most Republicans supported the “charitable choice” measure, which allows federally funded religious groups to hire like-minded people.

Without charitable choice, “faith-based organizations are forced to relinquish their protected rights to hire individuals who share their beliefs,” said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which produced the bill.

President Clinton signed four federal laws with charitable choice measures, said Mr. Boehner, who introduced the charitable choice amendment yesterday after its original sponsor, Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., Louisiana Republican, abruptly returned to his home state in anticipation of Hurricane Rita.

Democrats denounced the charitable choice measure for allowing “religious discrimination with taxpayer dollars.”

“Congress should not be in the business of supporting state-sponsored discrimination,” said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat.

The measure is “actually a poison pill for this bill,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat, noting that when the Head Start bill passed the committee in May, it had full bipartisan support.

The Boehner-Boustany amendment passed 220-196, with 10 Democratic votes. It was one of 10 amendments added to the bill yesterday.

A Senate Head Start bill, which also passed its committee with full bipartisan support, is awaiting a floor vote.

The House Head Start bill funds the program with $6.9 billion in 2006 and about $36 billion between 2007 and 2010.

It requires more cooperation between Head Start and state-run early childhood programs and puts a new emphasis on academics — both Bush administration priorities. However, it does not allow direct state control of the Head Start funds — a proposal in earlier bills that outraged Head Start trade groups and many Democrats.

The new bill sets up new financial accountability rules, including annual audits, and requires poorly performing Head Start grantees to recompete for their grants.

It also requires more Head Start teachers to have degrees by 2010.

Democrats have warned that requiring degrees without raising teacher salaries is foolish, but their efforts to vastly increase funding for salaries have failed so far.

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