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Congress Approves Head Start Reauthorization

On November 14, the House approved, 381-36, the conference report for the Improving Head Start Act of 2007 (H.R. 1429). The Senate also cleared the conference report, 95-0, on November 14. The bill reauthorizes the Head Start (P.L. 105-285) program for five years; the current authorization expired in 2003. The House passed H.R. 1429 on May 2 (see The Source, 5/4/07); the Senate approved the legislation on June 19 (see The Source, 6/22/07). The president is expected to sign the measure.

The conference report authorizes $7.35 billion in FY2008, $7.65 billion in FY2009, $7.995 billion in FY2010, and “such sums as necessary” in FY2011 and 2012 to “promote the school readiness of low-income children by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development in a learning environment that supports children’s growth in language, literacy, mathematics, science, social and emotional functioning, creative arts, physical skills, and approaches to learning; and through the provision to low-income children and their families of health, educational, nutritional, social, and other services that are determined based on family needs assessments.”

The bill increases the income eligibility threshold for Head Start from 100 percent to 130 percent of the federal poverty line, gives priority to children from families whose incomes are below the poverty line or are eligible for public assistance, and makes homeless children automatically eligible for the program. The bill also authorizes the use of funds for “[s]upporting staff training, child counseling, and other services necessary to address the challenges of children from immigrant, refugee, and asylee families; homeless children; children in foster care; limited English proficient children; children of migrant or seasonal farmworker families; children from families in crisis; children referred to Head Start programs (including Early Head Start programs) by child welfare agencies; and children who are exposed to chronic violence or substance abuse.”

In addition, Head Start agencies will be required to coordinate their programs with their local educational agencies, and at least 50 percent of Head Start teachers nationwide will be required by September 30, 2013, “to have a baccalaureate or advanced degree in early childhood education; or a baccalaureate or advanced degree and coursework equivalent to a major relating to early childhood education, with experience teaching preschool-age children.” The secretary of the Department of Education also will be required to set aside at least 20 percent of funds for training and technical assistance activities for Early Head Start programs.

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