Just last month, Head Start supporters were celebrating the passage of a five-year reauthorization bill they say will strengthen the 43-year-old preschool program for poor children.
Now, the same advocates are lamenting what they’re calling “broken promises” from the Bush administration over funding for the program, and saying they’ve been “saddled” with loads of new requirements in the reauthorization.
The $6.8 billion program, which serves close to 1 million children, is actually underfunded by $1 billion because spending on the program has remained flat for six years and its budget was cut by more $10 million in the fiscal 2008 appropriations bill that passed Congress in December, according to the National Head Start Association. The Alexandria, Va.-based advocacy group represents Head Start families and staff members of local programs.
“That is what put us on a path to real crisis,” Ron Herndon, the chairman of the NHSA board, said during a telephone press conference last week.
The renewed Head Start law, signed by President Bush on Dec. 12, authorizes $7.35 billion in spending for fiscal 2008 and $7.65 billion in fiscal 2009, which begins Oct. 1. But when he signed the legislation, the president made clear he was not supporting such amounts.
“Approval of this legislation is not an endorsement of these funding levels or a commitment to request them,” Mr. Bush said.
The reauthorized law also requires that more teachers in the program earn bachelor’s degrees, strengthens accountability measures for grantees, and eliminates the controversial National Reporting System—a series of tests to track Head Start children’s skills. (“Head Start Measure Expected to Launch New Era for Program,” Nov. 28, 2007.)
Despite signing the bill, President Bush has also maintained his support for the assessment program.
The revised law raises family-income eligibility levels for Head Start, allowing children living in families earning up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level—or $26,800 for a family of four—to be enrolled if those at the 100 percent level are already being served.
A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2008 edition of Education Week