Murray Introduces Senate Proposal to Strengthen Head Start

Jul 29 2003

Decries efforts to block grant Head Start. Poor kids should not be guinea pigs in an ideological experiment

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – At a Capitol Hill news conference this afternoon, Sen. Patty Murray introduced a Senate Democratic proposal to strengthen Head Start for the nearly one million underprivileged children enrolled in the program.

The Senate plan would expand the successful program to serve all eligible children and double the number of children that could be served by Early Head Start (age 0-3). Currently, Head Start serves 6 in 10 eligible children, and only 3 percent of eligible infants and toddlers are served by Early Head Start.

The plan would also raise the requirements for teacher certification to ensure that every Head Start class is taught by a teacher with a Bachelor's degree, and require Associate's degrees for every Head Start teachers.

In addition, the bill would ensure Head Start is coordinating with other state and local pre-school and early childhood programs without resorting to irresponsible block grants that would dismantle the comprehensive standards that have made Head Start so successful.

On Friday, the House narrowly passed a version of the Bush Administration’s proposal that could fundamentally change Head Start for half of the vulnerable children currently served. Twelve Republicans and every Democrat voted against the draconian proposal, which would undermine the performance standards that have made Head Start so successful.

Murray gave the following statement:

"As the only former pre-school teacher in the Senate, I feel a personal obligation to stand up for our children. And standing up for our children – particularly our most vulnerable children – means standing up for Head Start.

If there is a list of successful federal initiatives, then Head Start must be at the top of the list. Each year, nearly a million poor children across this country attend Head Start programs.

These kids did not choose to be poor. But since they live in a nation that values young people, many of these children are enrolled in Head Start, where they receive the tools and the training to prepare them for school.

This year, the Congress must reauthorize Head Start. It is a chance to build upon the success of this program in making a positive difference in the lives of millions.

As Congress approaches this important legislation, we should remember the Hippocratic Oath: "First, do no harm."

Unfortunately, the Republican plan which barely passed the House last week would do great harm.

First, block-granting Head Start is a terrible idea. With states facing $90 billion in budget deficits, why turn these funds over to Governors who might be tempted to spend the funds elsewhere?

Second, the Administration admits that it has no idea whether state governments can do a better job with Head Start than giving the money directly to the local centers.

Last week, the Administration's witness from the Department of Education told the Senate HELP Committee that – quote - "We really do not have rigorous studies that speak either to the impact of Head Start as currently delivered or to the impact of state programs."

To dismantle a successful federal initiative while having no idea of the impact is an incredibly irresponsible risk. And poor kids should not be guinea pigs for an ideological experiment.

Let me tell you about what I have seen in my own home state of Washington.

At the beginning of July, I visited a Head Start Center in Vancouver, Washington. This program is doing a tremendous job with the children who are enrolled there. Unfortunately, there are 300 children on the waiting list just to get in to this one program. 300 children!

The Administration's plan won't help any of these children get off the waiting list and into a classroom. It won't give our most vulnerable kids a strong foundation for learning or the health services and parent training to help them get ahead.

The Administration's plan is based on a lot of guess work, while Head Start - as it's currently run - is based on 38 years of progress.

That's why today I am proud to introduce a Head Start reform plan that will improve and expand this program even further. This plan strengthens the Head Start workforce, focuses on pre-literacy and language skills, expands Head Start to cover more kids, and makes the program more accountable.

Instead of weakening an effective program, the Democratic proposal strengthens Head Start and increases resources for priorities like highly-qualified teachers and the development of pre-literacy and language skills.

And I'm not saying that we can't make a good thing even better. That's why I will be personally focused on making some improvement, including provisions to help homeless and foster children get the added help they need within the Head Start program.

Once again the Senate will be called upon to improve legislation moving through Congress. I look forward to working with my colleagues – Republicans and Democrats – to reauthorize Head Start the right way."