Head Start supporters have fired back in the accelerating battle over the direction of the 38-year-old program.
The report’s release last week coincided with the launch of a Web site, www.saveheadstart.org, designed to encourage supporters to write to their House members, senators, and governors in opposition to the president’s plan.
Head Start could be completely wiped out in five years if Congress approves President Bush’s plan to give states more control over the federally backed preschool program for poor children, the Alexandria, Va.-based National Head Start Association contended in a report last week.
Titled “Dismantling Head Start: The Case for Saving America’s Most Successful Early Childhood Development Program,” the report says states cannot provide the comprehensive health, social, and educational services now delivered by local grantees.
The president’s proposal—which would allow states to apply to receive Head Start funds in order to better coordinate the program with their own state preschool efforts—relies “on budget-deficit-crippled states that currently are slashing funds for early-childhood development and education,” the report says.
Even if states start out serving the same number of children, “there is no assurance that they will be able to afford to do so in the future,” the authors from the advocacy organization write.
Citing an article by Yale University researchers Carol H. Ripple and Walter S. Gilliam, the report points out that only three states—Delaware, Washington, and Oregon—have shown that they can provide the eight types of services required by Head Start’s current performance standards.
But Wade F. Horn, the assistant secretary for children and families in the Department of Health and Human Services, said that under Mr. Bush’s plan—not yet formally introduced in Congress—states would not be allowed to serve fewer children in Head Start or cut the amount they are spending on their state preschool programs.
“We are not embarking on an endeavor to dismantle Head Start,” Mr. Horn said. “This is not about turning anything over to the states.”
Head Start advocates also say they are concerned states would not be required to involve parents in the classroom or in leadership positions, as is now required. Mr. Horn responded that although the plan emphasizes the role of parents, federal officials didn’t want to “prejudge how states propose” to involve them.