Clinton Expected To Sign Widely Hailed Head Start Bill

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President Clinton this week is expected to sign a Head Start reauthorization bill that drew bipartisan support in Congress and is backed by child advocates.

"This is one of the strongest bills in the program's history,'' said Helen Blank, the director of child care for the Children's Defense Fund. "It will allow Head Start to bolster quality and serve children more effectively.''

Both houses last week approved a House-Senate conference agreement on the bill, which reauthorizes the popular program for disadvantaged preschoolers at "such sums as may be necessary'' through 1998. (See Education Week, May 11, 1994.)

The Senate approved the measure on a 98-to-1 vote, with Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., the lone dissenter. The House passed it on a vote of 393 to 20.

Early-childhood educators have long hailed Head Start's combination of parent involvement with education, health, and other social services. But the bill reflects a consensus among experts and policymakers that action is needed to shore up program quality and serve increasingly troubled families.

The bill bolsters standards and monitoring, technical aid, and sanctions for poorly performing grantees. It also calls for improved teacher training and a new mentor-teacher program. Language in the bill also encourages grantees to raise teacher salaries, adopt full-day, full-year programming, and address the needs of families with limited proficiency in English.

Better School Coordination

The bill reserves from 3 percent to 5 percent of Head Start funding between 1995 and 1998 for a new component that is to serve infants and toddlers.

It also extends a transition-grant program that carries Head Start approaches into the early elementary grades and supports other efforts to improve coordination between Head Start and schools.

It also strengthens parent-involvement provisions and calls for more family-literacy and parent-education services in collaboration with the Even Start program.

Child advocates for now have lost a battle to curb the paperwork Head Start grantees face in establishing children's eligibility for a federal food program that most already qualify for based on income.

But the bill for the first time allows grantees to build facilities if a suitable one does not exist nearby or if construction is more cost-effective than buying or renovating appropriate space.

A bill-signing ceremony has been tentatively scheduled for May 18.

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