Early Years

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The five-year, $22-billion child-care package passed as part of the federal budget bill this month has drawn praise for setting an important precedent, but criticism for failing to expand Head Start and bolster aid substantially for school-based care.

The bill combines a modest state block-grant program with tax provisions to aid poor families. Although it was watered down in three years of Congressional deliberations, it emerged with a new feature to help families stay off welfare.

The provision added by Representative Thomas J. Downey, Democrat of New York, grants states $1.5 billion over five years to aid parents who cannot work without child care and thus would be at risk of welfare dependency.

The program supplements a section of the Family Support Act of 1988 that requires states to provide child care to welfare clients in job training or making the transition off Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

But it targets instead poor families not now eligible for child care or who have exhausted their transitional child care.

As under the Family Support Act, states will have to match federal dollars at the state's Medicaid matching rate and set up their own income-based sliding-fee scales. But rather than requiring states to offer the child care as an entitlement, the new program solicits a state's participation only "to the extent that it determines that resources are available."

The program requires that providers other than those caring only for family members be licensed, regulated, or registered, and authorizes another $50 million a year starting in 1992 to help states raise and monitor standards and train providers.

Although Head Start teachers generally work the same number of days and hours a year as public-school teachers, they are paid the equivalent of 61 percent of teachers' average beginning salaries, according to the National Head Start Association.

Based on a survey last January of 1,868 Head Start programs nationwide that drew responses from about one-third of them, the NHSA reported last month that Head Start teachers earn an average of $11,859 a year, while beginning kindergarten or 1st-grade teachers on average earn $19,586. Head Start teacher turnover averaged 25 percent at the time of the survey, and low pay was cited as a factor by 45 percent of the programs polled.

The survey also showed that Head Start directors, home visitors, and coordinators of health, social-services, and parent-involvement earn only 54 percent to 62 percent of the pay of comparable public-school staff.

Conducted by Collins Management Consulting of Vienna, Va., the survey compares Head Start pay by state, region, and administrative auspice. It is the most comprehensive study yet published, said Don Bolce, NHSA's information-services director.

While Head Start requirements vary among states and localities and many do not require formal certification, Mr. Bolce noted, wages and credentials are "interrelated" because the low pay makes it difficult to draw certified teachers.

Under the Human Services Reauthorization Act that was passed last month--which authorized a $1-billion boost in Head Start this fiscal year--10 percent or $195 million of the total appropriation this year and 25 percent beyond inflation in future years must be used to upgrade existing programs; half of that must go toward raising salaries. The legislation also requires that each Head Start classroom by 1994 have a teacher who has a child-development associate credential or an early-childhood degree.

Copies of "Head Start Salaries: 1989-90 Staff Salary Survey" are available for $10 each from the N.H.S.A., 1220 King St., Suite 200, Alexandria, Va. 22314.

The U.S. Education Department has awarded $24 million for projects combining early-childhood, adult-literacy, and parenting education.

The projects funded under the "Even Start Act" passed in 1988 range from home-based programs where aides offer guidance on child development, help in enrolling in literacy or English classes, and links with other community services, to centers offering early-childhood programs and education and training for parents.

In addition to funding the initial 73 school districts for a second year, this year's awards will fund 46 new projects. They include awards to the Oregon, Louisiana, New York, and Washington State education departments.

Aided by corporate sponsors, two schools are launching multi-age classrooms for young children.

Through a partnership with Childcraft, Inc., part of The Walt Disney Company, Public School 95 in Brooklyn, N.Y., last month launched a multi-graded primary center offering individualized and small-group instruction and thematic learning centers for 5- to 7-year-olds.

Childcraft has contributed $50,000 in equipment alone to the effort and is seeking to fund and work with other corporate sponsors on similar projects.

The Exxon Education Foundation, meanwhile, has awarded $950,000 for a five-year effort to adopt a multi-age program for kindergarten through the 4th grade at the Indian Hill School in Omaha, Neb.

The program, based on research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Teachers College, will tap techniques most effective for culturally diverse and low-income children and involve parents, business, and community agencies.--D.C.

Vol. 10, Issue 10

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