Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Steve Forde
McKeon Statement on Improving Head Start Act (H.R. 1429)
Let me start by commending my friends, Mr. Kildee and Mr. Castle, for their work on this bill, which I am so pleased we were able to pass with an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Committee two months ago.
While the resources to fund Head Start are significant, more work is needed to achieve the ultimate program goal of closing the readiness gap between Head Start children and their more advantaged peers as they enter kindergarten. Some studies indicate that children enrolled in Head Start do make some progress, but at the same time, we need to understand that we still have some work ahead of us in closing the readiness gap.
With this in mind, the bill before us today will strengthen Head Start’s academic standards by emphasizing cognitive development and the results of scientifically-based research in topics critical to children’s school readiness. The measure also aims to improve teacher quality by ensuring a greater number of Head Start teachers have degrees and are adequately trained in early childhood development, particularly in teaching the fundamentals. That’s great news for those children who will be participating in Head Start programs years down the road.
I also have been disappointed that – in recent years – we have heard many stories that have marred Head Start’s good name. In various communities, we’ve found that financial abuse within some Head Start centers is far too commonplace. And in fact, a March 2005 report from the Government Accountability Office warned the financial control system in the Head Start program is flawed and failing to prevent multi-million dollar financial abuses that cheat poor children, taxpayers, and law-abiding Head Start operators.
In the 109th Congress, Republicans led the House in passing a Head Start reauthorization bill that addressed these weaknesses in the Head Start financial control system, and I believe the bill before us moves in that direction as well. It would require Head Start operators to meet a range of financial disclosure requirements as a condition of receiving and keeping their federal Head Start grants. Furthermore, under this bill, grantees would have to be overseen by a local governance board that provides direction and actively oversees program activities. These are positive steps to ensure abuses are minimized and taxpayer funds – and the children those funds are meant to serve – are protected.
While this bill does represent overall progress for Head Start, I would be remiss if I did not note that there are some significant flaws in it – flaws that I hope we can correct before this measure is sent to the President. For example, under this measure, the Majority has decided to expand Head Start eligibility to those who the program was not designed to serve. Ultimately, I believe this policy change may have the impact of leaving many children who live in poverty underserved by Head Start programs. This runs contrary to what we all believe to be the mission of this program and will do nothing to strengthen Head Start services. If anything, it will weaken them.
I also am disappointed that the House will not have an opportunity today to vote on an amendment offered yesterday at the Rules Committee by Mr. Fortuño to protect the civil liberties of faith-based providers by clarifying that these institutions are not required to relinquish their Civil Rights Act hiring protections when they participate in the federal Head Start program. These protections already are the law of the land with regard to various federal programs, including those impacting welfare reform and community service block grants. In fact, President Clinton himself signed such language into law.
The Fortuño amendment also would have ensured religious organizations would not be forced to remove art, icons, scripture, or other symbols in order to receive federal Head Start funds. Barring these providers from fully participating in Head Start is not only a disservice to the faith-based providers, but also to the children who depend upon the Head Start program and the taxpayers who should know that federal dollars are granted to the best available service providers – faith-based or otherwise.
Instead, the Majority thrust upon us an amendment that praises the work of faith-based organizations but does not protect their civil rights. It’s literally all talk and no action. Indeed, the only people protected by this amendment are certain Members of the Majority Party seeking political cover. Faith-based providers are left to fend for themselves.
In spite of these flaws – which I hope we can correct in time – the Improving Head Start Act remains a solid reauthorization measure. Head Start is a good program that is capable of achieving even greater results. And the bill before us could help to get us there. I reserve the balance of my time.
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