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Government Relations Update

Head Start Reauthorization Bill

Current Status

On Wednesday, October 29, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted 21-0 to pass the Senate version of the Head Start reauthorization bill. The House passed its version (H.R.2210) in July. The bill will now be scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor, and then a committee of House and Senate members will draft a final compromise bill.

Background
Testing

A main concern of the Senate Democrats was that the bill would establish academic testing of children in Head Start programs. However, after working out a compromise, the bill now says that testing can only be used to improve the programís curriculum and cannot be linked to funding decisions. Congress will request that the National Academy of Sciences review the new attainment standards proposed by the bill and make final recommendations.

Pilot Program

Unlike the House version, the Senate bill does not include a provision to establish a pilot program to allow states to use federal Head Start funds for their own early childhood programs.

Title II of the House bill establishes an eight-state demonstration program, which will allow states to use Head Start funds for state and local early childhood programs without the requirement that they meet the Head Start Performance Standards established by the Head Start Act. Title II does not guarantee that children and their families will continue to receive the range and intensity of comprehensive services now provided. At best, it requires services as extensive as those offered in Head Start only for the same number of children receiving Head Start in the base year. However, children who are added under the state program have no such assurances of receiving the same range and delivery of services.

In addition, Title II limits attention to childrenís cognitive, physical, and social development, while ignoring their emotional development and motivation to learn. A childís social and emotional development is the foundation of early literacy, but Title II of H.R. 2210 treats social development only as it pertains to classroom behavior.

Religious Discrimination

The Senate bill also differs from the House bill in the area of hiring practices based on religious preferences. While the Senate version does not include language allowing this practice, the House bill does.

In a letter written by Reps. Hinojosa (D-TX) and Grijalva (D-AZ) to their colleagues, they go so far as to state, ďNo religious organization participating in Head Start has requested this ability to discriminate, and many openly oppose using federal dollars to discriminate against teachers or parents.Ē However, H.R. 2210 seeks to repeal the non-discrimination laws as they pertain to Head Start teachers and volunteers.

If this provision is included in the final Head Start reauthorization bill, thousands of Head Start teachers could lose their jobs, and tens of thousands of parent volunteers could lose their privilege of serving as volunteers in the classrooms. Additionally, countless parents could be blocked from climbing the ladder out of poverty that has already taken thousands from being a parent volunteer to being a trained and paid Head Start teacher. All of this could happen because an individualís religious beliefs differ from those of his or her federally-funded employer.

Funding and Professional Requirements

The Senate version authorizes a funding level of up to $8 billion for Head Start by fiscal year 2007. The program received $6.7 billion fiscal year 2003.

The Senate bill would also require that all Head Start teachers obtain an associateís degree by the year 2009; half of them would be required to have completed a bachelorís degree by 2010. In contrast, the House bill directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to ensure that half of the Head Start teachers have at least a bachelorís degree by Sept. 30, 2008, and that all new teachers have at least an associate degree or be enrolled in school to pursue one within three years of the billís enactment.

If you have additional questions regarding the Head Start reauthorization, please contact Ann Bradford at abradford@naswdc.org or (202) 336-8237.

 
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