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House Committee Approves Head Start Reauthorization

On May 18, the House Education and the Workforce Committee approved, 48-0, a bill (H.R. 2123) to reauthorize Head Start through FY2011. The Education Reform Subcommittee approved the measure last week (see The Source, 5/13/05).

Sponsored by Subcommittee Chair Mike Castle (R-DE), the School Readiness Act of 2005 would give states a greater role in local Head Start programs, broaden safeguards against financial abuse, and establish higher educational standards for teachers. The bill would authorize $6.9 billion in funding for Head Start in FY2006 and such sums as are necessary for FY2007 through FY2011.

In his opening statement, Chair John Boehner (R-OH) stated, “This bill will strengthen school readiness and increase the role of all 50 states and local communities in Head Start. It will protect children and taxpayers against the abuse and mismanagement of federal Head Start funds…It will strengthen the academic components of Head Start and remove barriers that hinder coordination between Head Start and successful state-run early childhood initiatives, both priorities for President Bush.”

While applauding the bill for “some very positive changes,” Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) noted that “while the bill also increases requirements for teachers, it fails to raise their salaries or provide funds for their professional development,” adding, “The average salary for a Head Start teacher with a bachelor’s degree is about $25,000 a year. Nothing stops those teachers from taking a job in a kindergarten classroom that pays much more. If we’re serious about improving teacher quality and we should be then we have to pay it more than just lip service.”

During consideration of the bill, the committee adopted several amendments by voice vote, including:

  • a substitute amendment by Rep. Castle that would make technical changes;
  • an amendment by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) that would permit Head Start centers that are not under-enrolled to divert leftover resources to early Head Start centers;
  • an amendment by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) that would establish a plan to increase the participation of children who are underrepresented in Head Start and other preschool programs; and
  • an amendment by Del. Luis Fortuno (R-PR) aimed at boosting the learning skills of children with limited English proficiency by providing instruction and support services for teachers of limited English proficient children, improving communication from Head Start agencies to their parents, requiring the allocation of resources to assist Head Start agencies and programs in improving outreach and services to these children, and requiring a study on the status of these children and their families in Head Start and early Head Start programs.

An amendment by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) that would have increased authorization levels for Head Start to $16.7 billion was rejected, 22-26. Asserting that children are “25 percent of our population and 100 percent of our future,” Rep. Woolsey called on the committee to “fully fund Head Start.”

The committee also rejected several other amendments, including:

  • an amendment by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) that would have authorized $340 million for FY2006, $345 million for FY2007, and such sums as may be necessary for FY2008-FY2011 to increase pay for teachers with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees, and to provide scholarships for such degrees, 23-25;
  • an amendment by Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) that would have provided grants of up to $10,000 to assist Head Start teachers with a bachelor’s degree or higher with student loan repayment, by voice vote; and
  • an amendment by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) that would have amended Head Start eligibility criteria in order to increase the number of eligible children, 22-26.
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