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President's 1993 Budget Will Include $600-Million Increase for Head Start

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WASHINGTON--President Bush last week announced that his proposed budget for fiscal 1993, scheduled for release this week, will include the largest annual increase ever for the highly touted Head Start program--$600 million.

Appearing at a Head Start center in Catonsville, Md., the President said his budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 will propose that funding for the early-childhood-education and -intervention program be increased to $2.8 billion.

"In Head Start," Mr. Bush said, "we found a government program that works, that works to strengthen communities and families for the future." Head Start's budget has increased 127 percent since Mr. Bush took office in 1989.

But, while Head Start advocates and Congressional Democrats generally praised the President's proposal, they were quick to challenge the Administration's estimates of how much help the increase would bring.

In addition, they noted, even with the increase, the program is still about $5 billion short of what is considered necessary to serve all eligible children.

"American children need more than an election-year handout," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who has proposed that an additional $27 billion investment be made in Head Start over the next seven years. "They need a long-term commitment to their school readiness and to their future."

The Massachusetts Democrat, who chairs the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, said the President's proposal 'Tails far short of putting this landmark program on a guaranteed path to full funding."

Several observers noted last week that Mr. Bush, engaged in what has turned out to be a closer-than-expected race for re-election, was hoping to reap political dividends from his announcement.

Also, they noted, not only is the President's proposal an attempt to make good on a 1988 campaign promise to increase Head Start funding, but it also allows him to introduce an initiative for a program that has become politically untouchable.

Tied to Readiness Goal

In his appearance at the center near Baltimore, Mr. Bush told an assembly of teachers, parents, and civic leaders that his proposal to increase Head Start funding is a crucial step in helping to achieve the first of the national education goals--that all children start school ready to learn by the year 2000.

Accompanied by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan, Mr. Bush said he has "fought for [Head Start] increases the last three years."

The President said his proposed increase 'drill allow every eligible 4 year-old child whose parents want them to participate to have the Head Start experience."

Administration officials said the extra $600 million, a 27 percent increase, would mean an additional 157,206 children could participate.

Critics said, however, that the Administration's estimate does not take into account a law requiting that 25 percent of new Head Start money be put toward such "quality improvements" as teacher training, transportation, and facilities.

Critics also challenged the President over the number of eligible children. The 1990 law reauthorizing the program, which Mr. Bush signed, maintains that all 3- and 4 year-olds in families living below the poverty line, as well as 30 percent of such 5-year-olds, are eligible.

"We're concerned that the President and the Administration keep talking about serving 4-year-olds," said Don Bolce, the director of government affairs for the National Head Start Association. Mr. Bolce said that taking the quality-improvement factor into account and counting eligible 3- through 5 year-olds, the $600-million increase would bring an additional 98,000 children into the program.

Currently, 621,000 children participate in the program, and as many as 1.8 million are considered eligible.

Long-Term Commitment Sought

Noting that Mr. Bush's domestic agenda has been criticized, Mr. Bolce said he would like the President to reiterate his support for fully funding the program.

A Congressional subcommittee has estimated that, by fiscal 1994, fully funding the program would require $7.6 billion.

"We had $100 million [in increases] last year and $600 million this year," Mr. Bolce said. "Who knows what it will be in 1993. We'd like to see a long-term commitment."

Representative Dale E. Kildee, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education Subcommittee and who authored the 1990 reauthorization, said he would work to double Mr. Bush's proposed increase when the budget reaches the Congress.

"I think the indication that the President has made ... is a good start in showing support," an aide to Mr. Kildee said. "There's an enormous well of support for Head Start in the Congress." The President's proposed Head Start increase includes $13.2 million to help children from families suffering from drug or alcohol abuse and $12 million for studies on the long term effectiveness of the program.

Other Proposals

Other than the Head Start proposal, few of the President's budget priorities have become known.

The final budget for the current fiscal year included $205 billion for socialservice programs, including $31.7 billion for the Education Department.

Observers characterize the funding outlook for domestic programs to be particularly bleak this fiscal year given the fact that the spending cap for such programs is expected to grow by little more than 2 percent.

In addition, the fiscal 1992 budget included more than $4 billion in delayed obligations that must be included in the fiscal 1993 budget.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the domestic-spending authority allotted the Congress for fiscal 1993 will be $205.1 billion. News reports have indicated that the Office of Management and Budget estimates a maximum of $206.1 billion will be available.

However, numerous proposals have been offered on Capitol Hill to transfer defense spending to domestic programs or tax cuts--which would require changes to the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act--and President Bush has indicated a willingness to explore that option.

An aide to Representative William H. Natchef, the Kentucky Democrat who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, and education, said the domestic budget could be "pretty positive," given that the Presidential election will coincide with final approval of the spending bill.

Other possible budget proposals from the Administration include: . A tax credit for poor families who buy health insurance. . A tax break for middle-class families with children. . A 90-day moratorium on new regulations, and a review of current regulations.

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