Corzine, Pascrell Join Head Start Families to Preserve Program
Lawmakers say current proposals gut the successful program
Paterson - U.S. Senator Jon S. Corzine (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-8th) today joined with Head Start Administrators, parents, and children to praise the success of the program and warn of the devastating effects pending legislation will have on the program. The Senator and the Congressman were joined by Cecile Dickey, Executive Director of Concerned Parents for Head Start in Paterson and Maxim Thorne, Executive Director of the New Jersey Head Start Association. Ms. Dickey and Mr. Thorne echoed the lawmakers concerns that the program would suffer if proposed changes become a reality.
On July 25, 2003, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on H.R. 2210 "School Readiness Act of 2003," the Republican supported reauthorization of Head Start. The measure passed by one vote along strictly party lines.
Pascrell and House Democrats did not support the bill because it dismantles Head Start with an eight state block grant pilot program that waives all quality federal standards; repeals civil rights/employment discrimination protections; leaves 40% of eligible children unserved because of a lack of funding; decreases funding for teacher training and curriculum from 2% to 1%; and provides no money to improve teacher quality.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and will be debated on this fall. Senator Judd Gregg (NH), chairman of the committee, stated the pilot program, which would allow eight states to take over local Head Start Centers, will not be included in the mark-up. However, the pilot program will be offered as an amendment to the bill and debated on the Senate floor. The Senate must act quickly because the authorization for the Head Start program expires on October 1, 2003.
"We should be building on the success of Head Start, not tearing it down. We should be increasing funding to expand the number of eligible kids in the program -- not handing it over to cash-strapped states. A great program should be made greater," stated Senator Corzine.
More than 16,000 children are enrolled in Head Start programs throughout New Jersey, according to the NJ Head Start Association. Nationwide, the Republican proposal would leave 40% of eligible children on waiting lists.
"If we turn Head Start into a state block grant, it is another unfunded mandate waiting to happen. Similar to the No Child Left Behind Act, states will be left without adequate funding to meet the program's goals," noted Pascrell. "Additionally, states would have the opportunity to funnel money out of the Head Start program. We all know this sort of skimming happens too often, particularly with the financial crisis most states are currently facing. This legislation sets a model federal program up for failure."
The President claims to want to improve coordination, strengthen pre-literacy and math schools and improve accountability, but by turning Head Start into a block grant program, Head Start's guaranteed services to children could be threatened. States with Pre-K programs that would take over the program do not focus on the family-child connection that Head Start understands is so critical to a child's development.
The Administration backed proposal that passed the House would end federal reviews that are now undertaken every three years to ensure quality, and the bill does not establish minimal standards for the states to use to evaluate programs. It provides no additional funds to meet a proposed requirement that all newly-hired Head Start teachers have at least an associate's degree within three years and that half have a bachelor's degree by 2008. This lack of funding will leave the program without enough eligible teachers to serve the children.