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Everybody Loves a Head Start

by Helen Blank

We always knew (almost) everybody loves Head Start, and thanks to yesterday’s House vote, we can now more precisely quantify that as 88% of voting House members.

Last night, the House approved a bill (H.R. 1429) reauthorizing Head Start, the comprehensive early childhood program for poor children, by an overwhelming 365-48 vote.  The bill does a number of good things: halts the national test for all Head Start four-year-olds that was put into place under the Bush administration and that early education experts believe is inappropriate; increases funding targeted at improving quality; expands Early Head Start, which serves infant and toddlers—in recognition of research on the importance of children’s first years of life; and requires half of all Head Start teachers nationwide to have bachelor’s degrees by 2013.  Unfortunately, achieving many of the worthy goals laid out in the bill will likely require a great deal more money than authorized by the bill.

Before passing the bill, the House blocked an attempt by Republicans to add language to the bill that would have permitted Head Start programs to discriminate in hiring based on religion.  Fortunately, the majority of House members voted against authorizing this type of discrimination.

The passage of this bill was a long overdue victory given that Head Start was originally scheduled for reauthorization in 2003.  Better late than never.  But, more work remains to be done. The Senate needs to schedule debate on its own version of the bill—which is likely to happen in the near future. Then, the House and Senate have to work out the differences between their bills, and then both the Senate and House will have to vote again to approve the compromise measure.  After that, the bill would have to be signed by President Bush—who has expressed his displeasure with the fact that the House bill eliminates the national test and does not allow discrimination in hiring based on religion.  Stay tuned…

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