CHN: First Step To Head Start Reauthorization
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions took the first step toward reauthorizing the Head Start program by unanimously passing the Head Start for School Readiness Act, S. 556, on February 14. The bipartisan bill attempts to strike a balance between emphasis on the academic and social aspects of the program.
S. 556 rejects the notion of dismantling the program through state-controlled block grants. According to the National Head Start Association (NHSA), which represents 2,700 Head Start programs, S. 556 also makes some key positive changes to the program. It provides a stronger definition of what constitutes poorly performing programs and provides them with an opportunity to correct deficiencies. Only those programs that fail to correct deficiencies will be required to re-compete for their grants. The bill increases program eligibility from 100 percent to 130 percent of poverty. In recognition of the difficulty of cash-strapped programs to attract degreed teachers, new teacher credentials are made a goal rather than a hard requirement. S. 556 allows programs flexibility to serve additional pregnant women and younger children, and it terminates the National Reporting System test given to Head Start children.
NHSA has also raised concerns about the bill. S. 556 weakens the role of the parent policy council in the current system of shared decision-making between the governing body of Head Start and parents. It prohibits all Head Start programs from registering parents to vote and even from giving them a voter registration card. It prohibits use of funds by programs for legal assistance when appealing arbitrary or unreasonable decisions by HHS. The bill restricts the use of training dollars to attend national conferences.
NHSA estimates that Head Start, funded at $6.9 B in FY ‘07, would need to increase by $750 million in FY ’08 just to restore cuts made since 2002. Advocates are disappointed that S. 556 authorizes funding of only $7.35 B in FY ’08, $7.65 B in FY ’09, and $7.995 B in FY ’10.
The House Committee on Education and Labor is currently working on the House version of the bill. Full Senate consideration of S. 556 has not yet been scheduled.
(For more analysis on Head Start from the National Head Start Association see: http://www.nhsa.org/)