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Senate Committee Approves Bills on Mental Health, School Readiness

On February 14, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved, by voice vote, the Head Start for School Readiness Act (S. 556). The bill would reauthorize the Head Start program and provide $7.3 billion in FY2008, $7.5 billion in FY2009, and $7.9 billion in FY2010. The measure would: expand eligibility for Head Start programs to children in families with incomes up to 130 percent of the federal poverty line; double the set-aside for the Early Head Start program from 10 percent to 20 percent over five years; set aside at least four percent for Indian Head Start; and set aside at least five percent for Migrant and Seasonal Head Start. New goals for Head Start teachers also are set forth in the legislation, including that all teachers have an associate’s degree, and at least half earn a bachelor’s degree, in the next five years, and that one percent of the total funds provided to grantees be used for ongoing literacy training and technical assistance.

In a press release, Chair Edward Kennedy (D-MA) said, “For over forty years, Head Start has given disadvantaged children the assistance they need to arrive at school ready to learn. Its comprehensive services guarantee balanced meals for children, and a well-defined curriculum to see that children develop early skills in reading, writing, and math, and positive social skills as well. It provides visits to doctors and dentists, and outreach to parents to encourage them to participate actively in their child’s early development…In this legislation, we build on Head Start’s proven track record and expand it to include thousands of low-income children who are not yet served by the program.”

“Early childhood development is often a key indicator of how a student will perform throughout elementary school,” said Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY), also in a press release. “We must maximize the impact of the Head Start program to provide children with the building blocks for success and lay the foundation for high achievement. For many students, Head Start is the beginning of a lifetime of learning opportunities. It is vital that we set clear goals and standards for this critical first step to ensure that these children can develop the knowledge and skills they need to learn and succeed in school. We must also strengthen standards for Head Start teachers to ensure that Head Start programs maximize the impact they have on children.”

The committee also approved, 18-3, the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S. 558). The mental health bill would require employer-provided health insurance plans to impose the same lifetime limits on mental health benefits as apply to medical and surgical benefits. Businesses with less than 50 employees would be exempt from the requirement.

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