Saying that local Head Start programs are having to cut transportation services, buy cheaper food for children, and eliminate some education and training courses for parents, advocates for early-childhood education are criticizing President Bush’s fiscal 2008 budget proposal for the 42-year-old child-development and preschool program for poor children and families.
For the sixth year in a row, the Bush administration, in its budget plan released last week, is recommending $6.8 billion in spending for Head Start. The program, in the Department of Health and Human Services, is the largest federal education program outside the Department of Education. Congress appropriated $6.8 billion for it in fiscal 2006 and has not completed work on a spending plan for fiscal 2007, which began Oct. 1.
To keep up with inflation, the National Head Start Association, an advocacy group based in Alexandria, Va., is calling for an additional $750 million in fiscal 2008.
“I don’t recall a worse time for the program,” Sarah Greene, the president of the NHSA, said during a telephone news conference on Feb. 7. She released findings from a survey conducted in October, showing that 69 percent of Head Start programs say they are reducing staff levels and cutting employees’ hours, and that 47 percent have cut back on parent-involvement activities, especially those aimed at fathers.
During the call, Linnie Miller, the director of the Carolina Community Action Agency Head Start, said she has had to cut back her year-round program to 10 months.
The administration, however, points to improvements in Head Start program quality, in spite of flat funding. Last year, a rating tool used by the Bush administration to assess the program showed an upgrade from “results not demonstrated” to “moderately effective,” according to the Administration for Children and Families, the HHS agency that oversees Head Start. The program serves about 1 million children, roughly a quarter of those eligible.
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Officials also say the National Reporting System, a controversial test administered to Head Start 4- and 5-year-olds twice a year, has shown that the “school-readiness gap” between Head Start participants and more-advantaged children is getting smaller.
Meanwhile, the HHS budget proposal would reduce spending on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program by $223 million, or 4 percent, to $5.4 billion. Created in 1997 with $40 billion for 10 years, SCHIP is a partnership between the federal government and the states to provide medical coverage for children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance.
While the program was originally meant to serve families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, some states extend the program to families earning more. Budget documents show that the Bush administration wants to refocus the program—which has already met its goal of serving 5 million children—on its original objectives and is recommending $5 billion over five years for additional “allotment funds.”
The administration is also proposing to reauthorize the program, which is due to expire at the end of September, for another five years. In fiscal 2006, the program served roughly 6.6 million young people under age 19.
Health-care advocates say the president’s recommendation, if accepted, would make the program more expensive for states and less able to cover uninsured children.
Highlights of the president’s fiscal 2008 budget proposals for education-related programs in other agencies outside the Education Department follow.
Department of the Interior
The Bureau of Indian Education system of the Department of the Interior runs 184 primary or secondary schools located on 63 American Indian reservations and serves about 46,000 students. The Bush administration’s fiscal 2008 budget request seeks $562 million for the system, an increase of $15 million, or 2.7 percent, over the current level.
Only 30 percent of Bureau of Indian Education schools are making adequate yearly progress under the 5-year-old No Child Left Behind Act. The additional funds requested for 2008 are intended to improve student achievement. The budget request includes a $5.3 million fund to improve student test performance in mathematics, reading, and language arts. It seeks an increase of $3.6 million in spending for educational specialists who can provide oversight and guidance to schools in the system in meeting goals of the NCLB law.
In addition, the proposed budget seeks an increase of $4.3 million for transportation, to pay for maintenance needs and higher fuel costs. It also asks for an increase of $1.9 million to operate an information system on school and student statistics for Indian schools that is being created with funding from the Department of Education.
—Mary Ann Zehr
Department of State
President Bush’s budget request includes $26.7 million for the National Security Language Initiative in the Department of State, up by 44 percent from the $14.9 million that is projected to be spent on the initiative in fiscal 2007. The president announced the plan in January 2006 and focuses on the teaching of Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Russian, and Turkic languages through student exchanges and professional development for teachers.
The fiscal 2008 budget plan seeks $19 million for the Youth Exchange and Study Program, which brings teenagers from countries that are predominantly Muslim to the United States to live with American families and attend U.S. schools for a school year. That is the same level of funding projected to be spent this year.
—Mary Ann Zehr
National Science Foundation
The budget for the National Science Foundation would increase under the Bush plan to $6.4 billion in fiscal 2008 from $5.6 billion in fiscal 2006, for a 14 percent increase over the agency’s last approved budget.
Spending in the NSF’s education and human-resources directorate, the division largely responsible for supporting school research, would rise to $750 million next fiscal year, from $700 million in 2006, or a hike of 7 percent.
Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., the chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, said in a statement that the administration’s budget continues to shift too many K-12 math and science resources from the NSF, which has “long-standing expertise and success” in those areas, to the “bureaucracy” of the Education Department.
Mr. Gordon has proposed legislation to expand the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, which provides financial support for undergraduates who agree to teach K-12 math and science. The president’s 2008 request proposes $10 million for the Noyce program, an increase from $9 million in 2006. Under his plan, funding for the NSF’s Math and Science Partnership program, which forms ties between schools and colleges for math and science research, would fall from $63 million in fiscal 2006 to $46 million in fiscal 2008—a drop of 27 percent.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
The proposed fiscal 2008 budget for the federal space agency would allot $154 million to education activities across all NASA divisions. That may seem like a mere chunk of space debris in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s total proposed budget of $17.3 billion, but the agency takes the education side of its mission seriously.
The spending for what NASA calls its “education theme” activities would be a decrease, however, by 6.2 percent from the $162 million budgeted in fiscal 2006. The education theme would be directed to five projects, with one of them aimed at providing K-12 educators with tools and opportunities to improve their teaching in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and to help them steer students toward careers in those fields.
Among specific K-12 programs that would experience belt-tightening are the NASA Explorer Schools, selected schools in every state that participate in education activities centered around space; NASA’s Web-based educational services; and national educational outreach tied to space exploration, such as curriculum activities and speaking appearances by astronauts.
The proposed cuts come shortly before the planned launch this spring of the space-shuttle mission that includes former teacher Barbara R. Morgan in the crew. Ms. Morgan, who was the backup to NASA’s original teacher-in-space, Christa McAuliffe, in the 1980s, is slated to operate the shuttle’s robotic arm on a space-station construction mission. Her long-delayed opportunity in space will likely draw wide attention from the general public, and the nation’s schools.
A version of this article appeared in the February 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as Bush Budget Proposes Level Funding for Head Start