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Conferees Approve 'Full Funding' for Head Start

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Washington--House and Senate conferees last week approved legislation that would allow the Head Start program to serve all eligible preschoolers by 1994 and fund "transition grants" to extend support services to program graduates in elementary school.

The measure, contained in a bill reauthorizing several human-services programs and approved by a voice vote, would boost Head Start funding from $1.4 billion in fiscal 1990 to $2.4 billion in 1991, $4.2 billion in 1992, $5.9 billion in 1993, and $7.7 billion in 1994.

The conference agreement has not yet been scheduled for floor action, and final decisions on funding will rest with appropriations panels.

But the full authorization would allow the program to reach 1.8 million 3-, 4-, and 5-year olds by 1994. About 487,000 now receive services, according to Congressional estimates.

Ten percent of the new funds would be reserved for improvements in program quality, including staff salaries and benefits, transportation, and facility improvements.

The Senate version of the plan, approved last month, left the distribution of program-quality funds to the discretion of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, while a House bill passed last May channeled the funds by formula to grantees and states.

Under the compromise plan approved by conferees, in the first two years 80 percent of the funds would be distributed by formula to states and local Head Start programs and the remaining 20 percent would be distributed at the Secretary's discretion. In the third and fourth years, program-quality funds would be distributed to states on the basis of the current Head Start formula.

The measure would require that 2 percent of the funds be allocated for training Head Start staff members.

House conferees agreed to back a Senate provision requiring that each Head Start classroom by 1994 have a teacher who has either a "child-development associate" credential or a degree in early-childhood education. But an amendment was added allowing programs to seek waivers for workers who are within six months of completing the c.d.a. program.

The agreement also includes a Senate proposal to earmark funds for "Head Start Transition Projects" extending social services and other Head Start components to elementary-school children and their families.

The plan would also earmark funds to expand "parent and child centers" providing parent education and other services to families with Head Start-eligible children under age 3, with the goal of ensuring that each state has at least one center.

The measure would also authorize a longitudinal study of Head Start and require annual reports to the Congress on the program.--d.c.

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