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Head Start Measure Appears To Be on Congressional Fast Track

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The Congress is moving quickly to complete action on a bill that would expand Head Start, tighten quality-control rules, and create a small grant program to extend services to children under age 3.

The Senate last week passed by voice vote a Head Start bill that had been cleared a week earlier by the Labor and Human Resources Committee, and the House Education and Labor Committee last week passed a companion measure. The full House was expected to act this week, paving the way for a House-Senate conference.

Both bills would reauthorize the popular program for disadvantaged preschoolers through 1998.

Neither bill specifies an authorized funding level for the program, which received $3.3 billion in the current fiscal year. President Clinton is seeking a $700 million increase for fiscal 1995.

Both bills are largely consistent with the recommendations of a Head Start advisory panel and a reauthorization measure backed by President Clinton. (See Education Week, Feb. 16, 1994.)

To address concerns about uneven program quality, the bills would tighten peformance standards, develop new "outcome'' measures, and put in place a process to withdraw funding from programs that continue to fall short even after receiving technical help.

Both measures would continue to set aside 25 percent of Head Start funds to improve program quality, efforts that could include increasing wages and benefits.

They would also give grantees more flexibility to offer full-day, full-year services, although the House panel rejected an amendment by Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., to set aside 10 percent of new Head Start money for that purpose.

Supporters argued that extending Head Start's hours is critical to the success of welfare reform and would help poor and single parents pursue education and jobs.

But opponents, including Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., the chairman of the House panel, argued that it is more consistent with Head Start's philosophy to give local grantees maximum flexibility to set their hours.

The panel agreed, however, to give special consideration to programs seeking to offer full-day or full-year services in awarding funds earmarked for expanding programs.

Infant Program Stays

Both bills also would link the award of expansion funds to a program's past performance and the extent to which it engages in communitywide planning, while also factoring in the number of eligible children and the concentration of poor families in the community.

The House panel also added language throughout its measure highlighting the need to address the needs of families whose primary language is not English.

The new program to serve families with children from birth to age 3 would draw from 3 percent to 5 percent of all Head Start funds between 1995 and 1998 and incorporate two existing programs serving that age group.

The House panel rejected an amendment by Bill Barrett, R-Neb., to strike the birth-to-3 program and conduct a study to weigh its likely impact on Head Start.

Mr. Barrett argued that such a program could be a "detriment'' to maintaining the quality of existing Head Start programs, a concern that he noted has been raised by the National Head Start Association and the National Black Child Development Institute.

To help children maintain their Head Start gains, both bills would extend through 1998 a Head Start transition grant program designed to extend Head Start-like services into the early elementary grades. (See story, page 1.)

The bills would authorize $35 million per year for that program--now funded at $25 million--and other transition activities.

The bills also would direct federal officials to offer collaboration grants, which support coordination of Head Start and related state programs, in each state.

The Senate bill includes a measure that would allow grantees to construct Head Start facilities in some cases. Both bills would allow Indian tribal grantees to buy facilities from tribes.

Both measures would create a new family-resource program to consolidate funding under four existing programs supporting family-support centers, community-based child-abuse prevention, temporary child care and crisis nurseries, and emergency child-abuse-prevention initiatives. But the House version would not repeal the latter three programs until they expire next year.

Under an amendment added to the House bill by Rep. Major R. Owens, D-N.Y., the consolidated program would also offer new services for families and children with disabilities and require that respite care be among the services offered by resource centers.

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