CHN: Senate Subcommittee Looks At Early Childhood Programs

The Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) told a Senate panel last week that there is enough money in the Head Start program, even though the program reaches less than half of eligible preschoolers and less than three percent of eligible infants and toddlers in Early Head Start.
ACF Assistant Secretary Wade Horn was joined by officials from the Departments of Education and Agriculture to testify in a hearing held by the Education and Early Childhood Development subcommittee of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The focus of the April 20 hearing was government coordination among early education and child care programs such as Head Start, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, state-run pre-kindergarten programs, and child nutrition programs.

Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) proposed in his opening remarks that the Subcommittee spend the next year examining the effectiveness of 69 federal child care and early education programs. In his remarks, Ranking Member Edward Kennedy (D-MA) said improving the quality of programs and increasing access was the key to success.

Assistant Secretary Horn continued to press Congress to pass a Head Start reauthorization bill that would allow up to eight states to take over local Head Start programs and coordinate them with state-funded pre-kindergarten programs, effectively a block grant of Head Start for those eight states. Chairman Alexander has not been inclined to include that option in a Senate Head Start reauthorization bill this year. Advocates have noted that block-granting Head Start would likely lead to weaker standards and a reduced scope of services.

According to Assistant Secretary Horn, more than $11 billion in funds are available for child care once TANF dollars are added to federal and state CCDBG funds, but Senator Dodd and others argued that CCDBG has not been increased in several years, states are struggling with deficits, and hundreds of thousands of children are on waiting lists for care.

The hearing also touched briefly on the ability of states to access Title I elementary education funding to fund higher quality pre-kindergarten programs. (See CLASP: Missed Opportunities The Opportunities and Challenges of Funding Preschool Through Title I )

Senator Alexander closed the hearing by inviting subcommittee members, those testifying and advocates to suggest issues related to early childhood programs that the subcommittee should study over the coming year.

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