Members of both political parties and both chambers of Congress last week introduced a Head Start reauthorization proposal by the Clinton Administration that takes several steps to improve quality and accountability and includes a small grant program to serve children under age 3.
At a news conference here, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala said the plan reflects a bipartisan, bicameral consensus that “we need a new Head Start program--not just bigger, but also better.’'
The briefing preceded a joint hearing on the plan held last week by the House Human Resources Subcommittee and the Senate Subcommittee on Children, Families, Drugs, and Alcoholism.
The bill’s sponsors are Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., and Daniel R. Coates, R-Ind., and Reps. William D. Ford, D-Mich., Matthew G. Martinez, D-Calif., Bill Goodling, R-Pa., and Susan Molinari, R-N.Y.
The sponsors stressed last week that the plan builds on Head Start’s strengths while addressing their common concerns about the need to shore up quality.
Ms. Molinari, who sponsored a bill on Head Start accountability last year with Mr. Goodling and Ms. Kassebaum, said they had several strategy sessions on what to do if Democrats tried to block the bill. But the Clinton proposal embodied their ideas so well, she noted, that “there didn’t need to be a strategy.’'
“We will have this done by fall,’' predicted Mr. Ford, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.
New Quality Controls
The “Head Start amendments of 1994'’ draw heavily on the recommendations of an advisory panel named by President Clinton to offer guidance on expansion while addressing concerns about uneven program quality. (See Education Week, Jan. 19, 1994.)
The bill would revise existing performance standards and develop new measures to assess program effectiveness and target technical aid at those that fall short. Poorly performing grantees would be required to develop a quality-improvement plan and would be offered some assistance, but if they did not measure up within a year, the Health and Human Services Department would take steps to remove their funding.
Mary Jo Bane, the department’s assistant secretary for children and families, stressed at the hearing that children in those programs would be placed in other centers or served by an “interim grantee.’'
The plan for the first time directs H.H.S. to factor in an applicant’s past performance when allocating expansion funds and also to favor those that do communitywide strategic planning involving other child-serving agencies.
Funding decisions would take into account relative numbers of unserved children and concentrations of poor families in each community, and grantees would be encouraged to “strike a balance’’ between adding children and expanding services, Ms. Bane said. One goal, she added, is to give programs more leeway to offer full-day, full-year services.
The plan also sets aside 25 percent of Head Start funds for quality improvement, which could serve such goals as raising staff salaries, improving facilities, and meeting performance standards.
Also included are measures to improve staff training and qualifications, including the development of model staffing plans, new guidelines and a new program to train family-service workers, and the establishment of mentor-teacher positions in Head Start classrooms.
‘Lay Out the Numbers’
The plan lays out a research strategy to gauge Head Start’s effectiveness over time. It also requires more systematic steps to work with schools in sustaining Head Start gains, from fostering better coordination to training parents to work with schools.
The plan would launch a program offering grants to public and private agencies that provide comprehensive services to families with children younger than 3. It would consolidate, and build on knowledge from, federal Parent-Child Centers and the Comprehensive Child Development Project.
Ms. Bane noted that the birth-to-3 program would be phased in slowly, drawing 3 percent of Head Start funds in 1995 and 5 percent by 1998, to gather more data on effective practices.
But Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., argued at the hearing that “we could be doing more right now based on the knowledge we have.’'
Several participants said the Head Start bill complements the “goals 2000: educate America act’’ that is moving through Congress and advances efforts to insure that all children enter school ready to learn. But some voiced concern about the lack of an “identifiable resource base’’ to carry out the plan and reach all children.
Ms. Bane noted that the President’s budget would boost Head Start by $700 million the first year and bring its total to nearly $7 billion at the end of five years.
But Mr. Dodd urged the Administration to more systematically “lay out the numbers’’ needed to serve all eligible children, including infants and toddlers, by 2000.