House Republican education leaders struck a conciliatory tone last week as they unveiled legislation to revise the federal Head Start program, saying they believed that Democrats would support most of their proposal.
Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said his staff had worked to assuage concerns by Democrats and Head Start lobbying groups, which derailed reauthorization of the federal preschool program for disadvantaged children during the last Congress.
“We have worked closely with our colleagues across the aisle to develop this bill,” Rep. Boehner said during a May 5 press conference, “and by and large they are in full support of the outline of this bill as it stands today.”
The bill addresses a major concern of some Head Start advocates, who have accused the Bush administration of trying to dismantle the program. Republicans have abandoned a much-discussed proposal for an eight-state pilot project that would have sent Head Start money directly to states instead of to local programs, as is the current practice.
Instead, Mr. Boehner said he’s opting for a 50-state effort to coordinate Head Start and state pre-kindergarten programs. Critics of the pilot project had worried that states might seek to transfer money away from the federal program.
“We are encouraged to see that the initial outline of the House bill does not include the controversial state block-granting provisions,” said Sarah M. Greene, the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Head Start Association, which represents Head Start parents and teachers.
‘A Work in Progress’
The Republican bill also tackles the idea of recompetition—forcing Head Start grantees to compete with other providers when their grants expire.
While Republicans concerned about lapses in financial management at local Head Start programs had initially proposed that all grantees recompete regularly, the bill proposes that only programs found to have at least one serious deficiency would be required to vie with other applicants for their contracts.
Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the education committee, called the Republicans’ bill “a welcome change from their previous approach.” But he noted that the bill does not address low salaries for Head Start teachers or authorize additional funds to add more children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers to Head Start.