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Debate Over 'Follow Through' Program Reopens

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Washington--The Education Department's Follow Through program, designed to help children bridge the gap between Head Start and elementary school, is again the subject of debate between supporters who perceive a need to expand its efforts and an Administration that seeks to have it eliminated as redundant.

The House Education and Labor Committee's human-resources subcommittee heard testimony last week from several educators who praised the program as effective in boosting pupils' academic achievement and preventing dropouts.

President Bush, meanwhile, has asked that funding for the program, currently $7.2 million, be eliminated in the next fiscal year. This is the 10th consecutive year that a President has made such a request.

The Education Department has said it "sees no need" to reauthorize Follow Through when its authority expires this year. The program, it argues, "has both achieved its purpose and duplicates other, more flexible authorities."

But the chairman of the human-resources panel, Representative Dale E. Kildee, said at the hearing that he was "dismayed" that Mr. Bush would move to eliminate Follow Through while requesting an increase in funding for Head Start.

"Head Start and Follow Through were designed to be complementary programs," the Michigan Democrat said, "and the need for one strongly implies a need for the other."

Mr. Kildee was expected to introduce a bill this week that would reauthorize the program for an additional four years. Susan A. Wilhelm, staff director for the subcommittee, said the chairman was also likely to propose an increase in funding.

Initiated in 1967, Follow Through was designed to give local education agencies assistance in providing services to disadvantaged children in grades K-3. The idea was that the program would help children retain the advantages they had gained by participating in preschool Head Start programs.

The program is administered by the Education Department's office of elementary and secondary education. Local programs have offered a variety of services, such as a full-day classroom program covering basic skills, social studies, arts, and sciences; social, health, and psychological services; and activities that encourage parental involvement in education.

Throughout the program's history, educators and policymakers have debated whether its purpose should be the provision of human services or the demonstration and dissemination of model programs.

Appropriations have decreasedsteadily from a peak of $70.3 million in fiscal 1970. Funding had fallen to $59 million by 1979, and has remained at just over $7 million beginning in fiscal 1986. For 1990, its appropriation went for 63 grants affecting 12,500 children.

The department has maintained that Follow Through's work was completed as of 1986. Since then, it says, "the only remaining task is for school districts to adopt or adapt the models" developed, with funding to come from the Chapter 1 and Even Start programs.

But Eugene A. Ramp, president of the National Follow Through Association, testified last week that other federal programs are not structured to fund the types of programs financed by Follow Through.

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