CHN: Head Start Reauthorization One Step Closer to Passage

On May 2, the House passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support the Improving Head Start Act of 2007, H.R. 1429, by a vote of 365-48.  The Head Start program was first authorized in 1965 to serve economically disadvantaged pre-school- aged children. Currently 900,000 children are enrolled in Head Start programs around the country.
H.R.1429 rejects the President’s earlier proposal to dismantle the program through state-controlled block grants.  The bill maintains the current shared governance structure between the board of directors and Head Start parents on policy councils, except for the hiring and firing of the Head Start director.  It increases income eligibility from 100 to 130 percent of poverty level for up to 20 percent of the children in any one program.  H.R. 1429 terminates the controversial National Reporting System testing for toddlers. The bill also requires that by 2013, 50 percent of Head Start teachers nationwide have a baccalaureate degree, without sanctioning programs that have difficulty meeting the benchmark. Set-asides for Early Head Start and Migrant and Indian Head Start program funding are increased in the bill.

Several amendments approved during floor debate will help increase the number of teachers with baccalaureate degrees by creating partnerships between Head Start and universities, and providing incentives for their participation through loan forgiveness for those who commit to teach in the program for at least three years.  Other amendments that passed will require Head Start grantees to perform background checks before hiring employees, and will make funds available to improve the quality of ‘inclusive classrooms’, those for children both with and without disabilities.  The House rejected an attempt to allow faith-based groups to consider religion in hiring for Head Start programs.

The National Head Start Association, which represents 2,700 Head Start programs, estimates that Head Start would need to increase by $750 million in FY 2008 just to restore cuts made since 2002.  H.R. 1429 authorizes funding of only $7.35 billion in FY 2008, up from $6.9 billion in FY 2007.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions unanimously passed its version of reauthorization, the Head Start for School Readiness Act, S. 556, in February.  Full Senate consideration of the bill has not yet been scheduled.

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