House Committee Preparing Its Own Head Start Bill
The House education committee will seek to address funding for Head Start, the monitoring system for local programs, and the role of parent-led councils in governing Head Start centers when it considers the reauthorization of the federal preschool program, likely this month.
Rep. Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich., said he was looking for “suggestions for improving the relationship between the Department of Health and Human Services and local Head Start programs to make it a supportive relationship that helps programs reach the high standards to which they aspire,” at a hearing Feb. 28 of the early childhood subcommittee, which he chairs.
The Education and Labor Committee could release its Head Start reauthorization bill as early as this week and has tentatively scheduled a committee vote on it for March 14. The Senate, Health, Education Labor, and Pensions Committee approved its own version of the legislation by a voice vote on Feb. 14. ("Head Start Renewal Advances Amid Debate Over Testing," Feb. 21, 2007.)
During the House subcommittee hearing, advocates for Head Start argued that the current process for reviewing programs is too penalizing and does little to help local centers improve services. Grantees find the Health and Human Service Department’s monitoring system is not supportive, “certainly not outcome-focused, and primarily punitive in nature,” said Barbara Haxton, the executive director of the Ohio Head Start Association, based in Dayton.
The House bill will likely address that problem partly by requiring the Health and Human Services Department to tie training and technical assistance more closely to reviews, a Democratic committee aide said.
Witnesses also said that years of stagnant funding have forced some Head Start programs to cut services, such as transportation, to keep from trimming enrollment. Head Start had been funded at $6.78 billion in fiscal 2006, but lawmakers added $100 million to the program for fiscal 2007, which began Oct. 1. President Bush’s budget proposal for fiscal 2008 does not include that increase; it would return the program’s budget to the fiscal 2006 level.
The Senate measure would boost the authorized level of spending for the program—which is not necessarily the same as the eventual amount appropriated—to $7.3 billion in fiscal 2008. The House measure will also likely authorize a funding increase, but the House Democratic aide said lawmakers are still working on exactly how much is realistic, given Democratic leaders’ pledge to keep federal spending in check.
Policy Councils’ Role
Subcommittee members also discussed whether the reauthorization bill should make changes to the Head Start governance structure. Responsibility for operating decisions concerning budget, personnel, and other issues is now shared between a local center’s governing board and its policy council, a panel on which more than half the members must be Head Start parents. The Senate bill would shift final decision making authority to the governing boards, giving the policy councils more of an advisory role.
But there appeared to be bipartisan support on the House panel for keeping the governance structure intact.
Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., said he’d heard complaints from more than 100 parents in his district when the House sought to change the role of the policy councils in a Head Start reauthorization measure it approved during the last Congress. He asked witnesses whether the current structure worked well.
Ellen Frede, a co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, based at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., defended the system, saying it can be a very effective partnership if policy councils and governing boards are properly trained in sharing management duties. Other witnesses agreed.
Rep. Kildee said in an interview after the hearing that, given the testimony, he would “lean towards having a proper balance” between the policy councils and governing boards. He said “diminish[ing] the role of the policy councils could hurt the program.”
The reauthorization bill approved by the House in 2005, during the 109th Congress, would have suspended the National Reporting System, a federal test given to all Head Start students. That language, which is similar to a provision in the current Senate bill, is likely to be back in the House measure this year, the committee aide said.
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