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House Backs Measure To Expand Head Start To Cover All Eligible

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Washington--Citing Head Start's record in helping poor children succeed in school and lead more productive lives, House members last week passed legislation that would allow the program to serve all eligible preschoolers by 1994.

The measure, contained in a bill reauthorizing several human-services programs, would boost Head Start's funding authorization from an appropriation of $1.4 billion in fiscal 1990 to $2.4 billion in fiscal 1991 and $7.7 billion over five years. The "human services reauthorization act" passed on a 404-to-14 vote.

The Senate education panel has not yet approved a companion bill, and final decisions on funding rest with the appropriations panels.

If the full authorization were appropriated, however, Head Start could reach 1.8 million children by 1994, serving all eligible 3- and 4-year-olds and 30 percent of eligible 5-year-olds. It now serves 487,000 children, according to Congressional estimates.

"With full funding for Head Start, Congress has made a tremendous investment in our children that will yield an invaluable return," said Representative Dale E. Kildee, Democrat of Michigan, who sponsored the bill and is chairman of the Human Resources Subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, the California Democrat who chairs the education panel, said it was "particularly fitting" that the measure was passed on the eve of Head Start's 25th anniversary last week.

He and other members cited studies showing that graduates of high-quality preschool programs reap substantial gains in many areas of development and are less likely to be held back a grade, placed in special education, drop out, become involved in crime, or receive welfare.

Alluding to goals set by President Bush and the nation's governors, Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the education panel, added that Head Start is "the major federal program to reach our national goal of getting children ready for school.''

But a small band of Republicans opposed the bill on fiscal grounds.

"This is a case where spending levels are completely out of touch with the budget situation we now face," said Robert S. Walker of Pennsylvania, who noted that the bill would double the 1991 boost in Head Start funding proposed by the President.

"It is cruel to say to programs we are going to authorize these massive amounts of money only to find out later on that was all a lie," he said.

To maintain and improve the quality of Head Start programs, the bill would earmark some of the new funds to improve staff pay and benefits, hire and train personnel, pay insurance premiums, provide transportation, and improve facilities.

If the program's 1991 appropriation exceeds 1990 levels by 10 percent, when adjusted for inflation, the new funds would be earmarked to improve program quality. In succeeding years, 25 percent of any excess in funding over the previous year would go toward such improvements.

The bill requires that half of the funds to bolster quality be used to improve staff wages and benefits.

It would also double the funding for "Parent and Child Centers," which extend Head Start and parent-education services to families with children from birth to age 3, boosting their funding to $30 million in 1991.

The bill would raise the authorization for the Follow Through program, designed to help kindergarten to 3rd-grade children build on their Head Start gains, to $20 million in fiscal 1991 and $50 million by 1994.

It would require that grantees work with local Head Start programs to ease the school transition. Applicants would also have to ensure that programs are "developmentally appropriate," approved by parent committees, and complement Chapter 1, bilingual-education, and special-education services.--d.c.

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