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Senate Democrats' Bill Would Permit Head Start To Be Fully Funded by '94

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By Peter West

Washington--Members of the Congress appeared poised last week to test the President's often-stated commitment to the Head Start program by proposing that reauthorizing legislation permit "full funding" by 1994.

Mr. Bush has called for a $500-million increase in spending for the program for disadvantaged preschoolers in fiscal 1991, which would be the largest single-year increase in Head Start's 25-year history.

But last week, as two Congressional panels held hearings in preparation for the reauthorization, fiscal and philosophical differences emerged over how many children should be benefiting from the program.

Testimony from Administration officials, education researchers, national business leaders, and former Head Start teachers and students alike confirmed Head Start's track record in helping poor children and their parents develop the social and academic skills needed to succeed in school.

"We're not debating the need for it, we're talking about how we can make it better," said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on children, families, drugs, and alcoholism, which held the first reauthorization hearing.

Full-Funding Proposal

Both the President and the Congress propose to increase the amount of money spent on the program this year, but the disagreement over numbers and age groups of children to be served translated into marked differences on how extensive the federal commitment should be.

President Bush's proposal would bring total expenditures for the program in fiscal 1991 to $1.7 billion. The increase, officials said, would allow Head Start to enroll as many as 180,000 more eligible 4-year-olds. The program now serves 488,000.

Lawmakers, however, introduced legislation last week that would raise the program's authorization level high enough to allow appropriators to fully fund the program.

That legislation would enable the states by 1994 to enroll all eligible 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds, at an estimated cost of more than $7 billion.

Congressional Proposal

Senator Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, joined Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, in co-sponsoring the "Head Start expansion and quality improvement act of 1990."

That measure would authorize $2.7 billion in spending for Head Start in the 1991 fiscal year, $1 billion more than the Bush proposal.

Under the Dodd-Kennedy plan, Head Start would reach 40 percent of eligible children in 1991. By 1994, authorization would exceed $7.6 billion, allowing states to extend services to 100 percent of eligible children ages 3 to 5.

A companion bill is being sponsored in the House by Representatives James H. Scheuer, Democrat of New York, and Dale E. Kildee, Democrat of Michigan.

Representative Scheuer is the chairman of the subcomittee on education and health of the Joint Economic Committee, which last week held its own hearing on Head Start.

Competition Questioned

The Administration's proposal is targeted at increasing the number of 4-year-olds who successfully complete the program, said Wade Horn, who oversees Head Start for the Department of Health and Human Services, in testimony before the Senate8subcommittee.

Mr. Wade noted that "every state in the country" now has established a publicly funded kindergarten program that enrolls 5-year-old children, which was not the case when Head Start was first enacted.

"We don't feel we should be setting up a system whereby Head Start is competing" with public-school programs, he said.

He also said that the Administration does not believe that children who might be enrolled in the program for two years, rather than the usual one, would receive a double benefit.

And, he pointed out, when Head Start was enacted in 1965, states were expected to contribute to the program.

The Administration therefore proposes establishing set-asides in the new legislation that would allow states to obtain additional federal funding, aside from their allotment provided by statute, if they increased their support for the program.

Mr. Horn added, however, that the Administration would not propose major changes to the legislation during the reauthorization, because "Head Start is a program that works."

'Short-Sighted' Approach

But Mr. Scheuer, in convening last week's session of the Joint Economic Committee, questioned the President's commitment to high-quality Head Start programs.

He noted that, even if the Bush plan to increase the Head Start budget is approved by the Congress, the program would reach only 20 percent of eligible 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds.

The Administration incorrectly views Head Start, he said, "as an expenditure and not an investment."

"That is short-sighted, both in economic and national-security terms," the New York Representative said.

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