CHN: Head Start Bill Moves in House — Without Block Grant

A bill that reauthorizes Head Start cleared a key House committee on Wednesday, May 18 with bipartisan support. The 40-year-old early education program targets low-income 3- and 4-year olds and has long been viewed as a success by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
The School Readiness Act (H.R. 2123), agreed to unanimously by the Education and Workforce Committee, departs from an earlier version passed by the previous Congress. In 2003 the House approved by a one-vote margin a Head Start bill that would have changed the federal-to-local structure of the program, allowing up to eight states the ability to run all the Head Start programs in their state. Advocates mounted a fierce campaign against the block grant provisions of the bill and the bill died in the Senate.

In contrast, the measure approved by the Education and Workforce Committee on Wednesday does not include the state pilot project, and earned praise from both Democrats and Republicans. H.R. 2123:

  • Requires 2 percent of Head Start funds to be set-aside for teacher training and requires at least half of Head Start staff nationwide to have a bachelor’s degree by 2011. Advocates worry the bill does not provide enough funding to meet the teacher training requirements. A Democratic-sponsored amendment to increase teacher salaries failed.
  • Authorizes the expansion of Early Head Start for toddlers, Head Start for children of migrant workers, and Indian Head Start. (The bill does not necessarily provide the funds to expand; appropriators would have to provide the additional funds in the annual appropriations bill.)
  • Requires more financial accountability from local Head Start operators. Local Head Start programs that have had program deficiencies will be required to re-compete for their funding.
  • Requires local Head Start operators to establish governance boards to monitor activities and work with local school districts to ensure children are prepared for academic work.

Democratic members of the committee complained the bill does not do more to increase funding for Head Start. Noting that Head Start serves only half the children eligible for the program, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) offered an amendment to boost the authorized funding level from $6.8 billion to $16.7 billion by 2011, but the amendment failed 22-26.

The bill does not contain language allow faith-based providers of Head Start to hire workers based on their religion, but House Republicans vow to add such language on the floor. The highly controversial faith-based hiring provisions have been attached to various legislation, including legislation reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in the past few years.

The Senate committee with jurisdiction over Head Start (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) has not yet marked up its bill, but may do so in the next few weeks.

Ed and Workforce Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) press release:

Ed and Workforce Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) press release:

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