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Conferees Approve Head Start Reauthorization Bill

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A House-Senate conference committee late last week approved by voice vote an agreement on legislation to reauthorize the Head Start program.

Aides worked for several days last week to resolve differences between House and Senate bills, and the lawmakers' vote ratified the resulting compromise.

According to aides and lobbyists, lawmakers first agreed to split the difference on two key provisions--included only in the Senate bill--that child-welfare advocates had championed. (See Education Week, May 4, 1994.)

The agreement would allow Head Start grantees to build their own facilities, but deletes a Senate proposal to make all Head Start children automatically eligible for federally funded meals for which most already qualify based on income.

Currently, grantees can only rent or renovate existing buildings. The National Head Start Association and Native American tribal groups have argued that finding space, particularly in rural areas, is often difficult.

Opponents argued that it would cost the government more money because of a federal law that essentially mandates that workers in a federally funded construction project be paid union wages.

Meals Plan Feared Costly

In opposing the meals provision, House members pointed to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that automatic eligibility would cost "millions'' more, said an aide to Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., the chairman of the Education and Labor Committee.

Child-welfare advocates argue that the paperwork needed to apply on behalf of a child is also expensive because it forces centers to hire more staff or cut services.

The final sticking point was a Senate proposal to consolidate three small child-abuse-prevention programs and a family-resources grant program, which senators argue would give states more bang for their buck.

Rep. Major R. Owens, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Select Education and Civil Rights, which has jurisdiction over some of the programs, argued that the proposal should wait until three of the four programs are up for reauthorization next year, aides said.

A compromise was drafted to consolidate three of the programs for one year, allowing lawmakers to revisit the issue.

Floor action is expected this week in both chambers. Lawmakers are under pressure to get a bill to President Clinton in time for a May 18 signing ceremony set to coincide with the day President Lyndon B. Johnson launched Head Start in 1965.

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