WASHINGTON, D.C—Today, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Health,Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, released the following statement in response to thepassage by the United States Senate of the Improving Head Start Act.
“For forty two years, Head Start has been a lifeline of support for our nation’s neediestchildren and families. I am pleased that we were able to work together in the Senate toproduce a bill that will advance and strengthen this important program. This legislation buildson Head Start’s proven track record, sets ambitious goals to expand the program, andupgrades Head Start’s educational services to better focus on preparing children for school.”
The bill will increase the scope of the Head Start program, doubling the of Early HeadStart over the course of the authorization, and deliver services to over 56,000 additionalchildren. It re-designs the Head Start Collaboration Office in every state to maximize servicesto Head Start children, align Head Start with kindergarten classrooms, and strengthen its localpartnerships with other agencies.
The bill sets a goal to expand Head Start over the next several years. It calls for increases infunding, from $6.9 billion in the current fiscal year, to $7.3 billion in FY 2008, $7.5 billion in FY2009, and $7.9 billion in 2010. These funding levels are critical to advance the essentialreforms in this legislation, and to serve thousands of additional children in the Head Startprogram.
To improve and expand the availability of quality early childhood education, the Senate HeadStart bill designates an Early Care and Education Council in each state to develop acoordinated and comprehensive system of early childhood education and development. TheCouncils are tasked with conducting an inventory of children’s needs, developing plans fordata collection and for supporting early childhood educators, reviewing and upgrading stateearly learning standards, and making recommendations on technical assistance and trainingfor programs. For those states ready to move forward and implement their statewide plan,our bill will offer a one-time incentive grant to implement these important efforts.
Additional flexibility for the Head Start programs is also included, allowing local programs tobetter tailor services to additional families and children in need. By expanding the eligibilityrequirements in the program, families who previously were excluded by very slim margins willnow qualify for participation in the program. Often, these are the neighbors of Head Startchildren with similar needs who have been barred from participating in the program.
REMARKS OF SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY ON THE PASSAGE OF THE HEAD STARTFOR READINESS ACT
I welcome the Senate’s action on this important legislation, the Head Start for SchoolReadiness Act.
I commend Senator Enzi, Senator Dodd, and Senator Alexander for their bipartisancooperation on this legislation, and I thank all the Senators on the HELP Committee for theircontributions to improving Head Start to meet today’s challenges. We began this process fouryears ago. Today, our bipartisan efforts have resulted in the strengthening of a forty-two yearold program that has been a lifeline of support for millions of low-income children preparingfor school and for life.
Since the War on Poverty, Head Start has delivered the assistance needed to enabledisadvantaged children to arrive at school, ready to learn. Its comprehensive services providebalanced meals for children, support visits to the doctor and dentist, and teach young childrenimportant learning and social skills. It helps families with the greatest needs get on their feet,and encourages parents to participate actively in their child’s early development.Years of evaluation have demonstrated that Head Start works. A federal survey found thatHead Start children make both academic and social gains under the program, and that thesegains continue when children enter kindergarten. Once Head Start children complete theirkindergarten year, they are near the national average of 100 in key areas, with scores of 93 invocabulary, 96 in early writing, and 92 in early math.
Over the years, we’ve also learned more about how Head Start can be improved. Thisreauthorization applies that knowledge to make modifications in the program, and it willenable Head Start to be even more effective in the years ahead.
In this legislation, we expand Head Start to include thousands of low-income children who arenot yet served by the program. We provide for better coordination of Head Start with stateprograms for low-income children. We strengthen Head Start’s focus on critical early learningskills and school readiness. We enhance the educational goals for Head Start teachers. Wepreserve the community-based structure of the program to ensure that the needs of localneighborhoods and their children are the top priority. We also provide greater accountabilityfor the program, including new policies to provide improved monitoring visits and guaranteethat programs with deficiencies receive needed attention and support.
To strengthen Head Start, we must begin by providing more resources for it. Child poverty ison the rise again and the need for Head Start is greater than ever. Today, less than 50percent of children eligible for Head Start participate in the program. Hundreds of thousandsof three- and four-year-olds are left out because of inadequate funding. Early Head Startserves only 3 percent of eligible infants and toddlers. It is shameful that 97 percent of thechildren eligible for Early Head Start have no access to it. This legislation expands access toHead Start to serve as many infants, toddlers, and preschool children and their families aspossible.
The bill establishes goals to increase funding and expand the program to provide nearly $8billion worth of services by 2010. These funding levels are essential to carry out the essentialreforms in the legislation and to serve thousands of additional children and families.In 1994, we enacted Early Head Start to benefit infants, toddlers, and their families. It hasworked ever since. Early Head Start children have larger vocabularies, lower levels ofaggressive behavior, and higher levels of sustained attention than children not enrolled in theprogram. Early Head Start parents are more likely to play with their children and read tothem. These activities increase a child’s desire to learn and strengthen a family’s commitmentto education. Our bill doubles the of Early Head Start over the course of the authorization,and includes a commitment to serve 56,000 additional children.
The bill also establishes a Head Start Collaboration Office in every state to improvesupport for Head Start children, to align Head Start with kindergarten classrooms, and tostrengthen its local partnerships with other agencies. These offices will work hand in handwith the Head Start network of training and technical assistance to support grantees inmeeting the goals of preparing children for school.
I’m especially pleased that the bill provides the blueprint needed to upgrade andstrengthen other early childhood education programs and services in the states. The billprovides an active role for states in coordinating early childhood education and developmentprograms, and designates an Early Care and Education Council in each state to undertake theactivities essential to developing a comprehensive system for the nation’s youngest children.
The councils will conduct an inventory of children’s needs, develop plans for data collection,support early childhood educators, review and upgrade early learning standards, and makerecommendations on technical assistance and training. For states ready to move forward andimplement their statewide plan, the legislation offers $100 million to support incentive grantsfor states to implement these important efforts.
Over the past four decades, Head Start has developed quality and performance standards toguarantee a full range of services, so that children are educated in the basics about letters,numbers, and books, and are also healthy, well-fed, and supported in stable and nurturingrelationships. Head Start is already a model program, but we can enhance its quality evenmore.
The bill strengthens literacy efforts currently underway in Head Start programs. We know thekey to future reading success is to get young children excited about letters and books andnumbers. The bill emphas language and literacy, by enhancing the literacy trainingrequired of Head Start teachers, continuing to promote parent literacy, and working to putmore books into Head Start classrooms and into children’s homes.
In addition, we make a commitment in the bill to upgrade all of the educational components ofHead Start, and ensure that the services are aligned with expectations for children’skindergarten year and continue to be driven by the effective Head Start Child OutcomesFramework.
At the heart of Head Start’s success are its teachers and staff. They are caring, committedleaders who know the children they serve and are dedicated to improving their lives. Theyhelp children learn to identify letters of the alphabet and arrange the pieces of puzzles. Theyteach them to brush their teeth, wash their hands, make friends and follow rules. Yet theirsalary is only half the salary of kindergarten teachers, and the turnover is high, about 11percent a year.
Because teacher quality is directly related to a child’s outcome, our bill establishes a goal toensure that every Head Start teacher earns an A.A. degree, and that half earn their B.A.degree by the next time Congress revisits the program. Head Start teachers and staff are thegreatest resource for children and families in the program, and investing in their developmentmust be a priority. I look forward to working with my colleagues to match these ambitiousgoals with the funding needed to make them a reality.
Our legislation also gives local Head Start programs greater authority to assess the needs offamilies in their communities and define the services necessary to meet those needs. We’velifted the eligibility requirements under the program, so that families living below 130 percentof the federal poverty rate can qualify and participate in Head Start. Yet we still prioritizeservices to children who need them the most. If programs determine that a greater share ofinfants and toddlers need services, our bill allows them to apply to the Secretary to convertand expand services to our youngest children. If programs identify a need to provide full-dayor full-year care for children and families, they can take steps to do this as well.
Accountability is a cornerstone of excellence in education and should start early. HeadStart should be accountable for its commitment to provide safe and healthy learningenvironments, to support each child’s individual pattern of development and learning, tocement community partnerships in services for children, and to involve parents in their child’sgrowth.
Head Start reviews are already among the most extensive in the field. Our bill takes afurther step to improve this process by ensuring that monitoring results and feedback areavailable to programs and used for their improvement. We also take steps to addressprograms with serious deficiencies, and ensure that substantial problems in programs do notlanguish at the expense of children. If a local program is unable to meet Head Start’s highstandards of quality, others should step in. Every Head Start child deserves to develop andlearn in a high-quality program.
Our bill also takes an important step to suspend the Head Start National Reporting System.Four years ago, many of us insisted that instead of rushing forward with a national test ofhundreds of thousands of children, Head Start would be better served if plans were developedmore deliberately to ensure an appropriate means to gather and report child outcomes inprograms. That appeal was ignored, and the Administration proceeded with an assessment –without sufficient authorization or oversight from Congress – that was later proven flawed andinconsistent with professional standards for testing and measurement.
This legislation requires that the assessments used in Head Start must be held to the higheststandard. Head Start’s measures must be valid and reliable, fair to children from allbackgrounds, balanced in what they assess, and sufficient to reflect the development of thewhole child. We’ve called on the National Academy of Sciences to survey and study the stateof assessments and outcomes appropriate for young children in environments like Head Start.
Their study will be of great value as we consider how best to move forward in Head Start andother early childhood settings.
Finally, the bill maintains the essential federal-to-local structure of Head Start, and rejectsother proposals that would dilute this important focus. Head Start’s design enables it to tailorits services to meet local community needs. Head Start’s regulations guarantee a universalstandard of quality across all programs. Yet each program is unique and specifically adaptedto its children and families. The focus on local neighborhoods and their children must alwaysbe at the heart of Head Start.
One of our highest priorities in Congress is to expand educational opportunities forevery American. In this age of globalization, every citizen deserves a chance to acquire theeducational skills needed to compete in the modern economy. This process starts early – itbegins at birth and continues throughout the early years, long before children enterkindergarten.
The Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 will keep Head Start on its successful path,and enable this vital program to continue to thrive and improve. I look forward to swiftpassage of this legislation in the Senate, and a productive Conference with the House on theimportant reforms in this bill.
Laura Capps/Melissa Wagoner (202) 224-2633