In the 33 years since Head Start began, numerous studies of the program have been conducted. But that body of research is not enough to convince some members of Congress that the federally funded preschool program for poor children is doing what they want it to do.
As Congress takes up this year’s required reauthorization of the law creating Head Start, a call for more large-scale research on the program is likely to be part of the process, Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Calif., indicated last week during a joint House-Senate committee hearing.
There are also signs that Republicans are interested in writing more-specific guidelines about the academic portion of the program, particularly regarding early reading skills.
“Head Start should ensure a successful transition to kindergarten and should produce long-term academic results in the early grades,” said Mr. Riggs, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth, and Families. His subcommittee met with the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families last Thursday.
Supporters of Head Start merely want to fine-tune the program and are focusing on moving toward President Clinton’s goal of serving 1 million children by 2002. Nearly 800,000 children are served now.
Administration officials also want to build on some major adjustments made to Head Start during its 1994 reauthorization.
Four years ago, the Early Head Start program, which serves children from birth to age 3, was created. For fiscal 1999, the administration has proposed doubling, from 5 percent to 10 percent, the percentage of federal Head Start money that is used to serve infants and toddlers. The administration has called for $4.7 billion in overall Head Start funding in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Also in 1994, the program was expanded to serve more preschoolers, new standards were written, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers Head Start, began to put a stronger emphasis on quality improvement.