Murray Grills Administration Officials Over Head Start Plans

Jul 22 2003

Challenges officials to provide proof that state-run preschool programs have better results than Head Start

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today grilled Bush Administration officials over the GOP's plan to dismantle Head Start. Under this proposal, the 38-year old program could be sent to states as a state block grant, and comprehensive standards, services and accountability would be eliminated. At a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on Head Start, Murray demanded an explanation for the Administration's decision to fundamentally change this highly successful program.

Murray expressed deep concern that the Administration's plan does not require states to meet performance standards which have been the cornerstone of Head Start's success for 38 years. These federal performance standards dictate critical requirements such as class size, teacher credentials and children's health services like nutrition.

"The Administration's proposal says to ignore all of the performance standards that we have worked to build and strengthen over the years in favor of allowing states to see if they might be able to do a better job," Murray told the Committee. "At the same time, the Administration proposes no requirements for teacher credentials, no money for a large-scale literacy effort in classrooms and no expansion for children to receive more intensive services."

Head Start is a comprehensive child development program which serves children from birth to age 5, pregnant women, and their families. It is a community-run, child-focused program whose goal is to increase the school readiness of young children in low-income families. This "readiness" not only emphasizes a child's cognitive development, but also his or her social, emotional, and physical well-being and includes a strong parent involvement component as well.

Instead of weakening an effective program, Senator Murray supports strengthening Head Start and increasing resources for pre-literacy and language skills. Murray supports ongoing professional development for Head Start teachers in language and emergent literacy. Literacy training would include specific methods to best address the needs of children whose primary language is not English, have speech and language delays, or other disabilities.

"The fastest way to ensure that children come to school ready to learn is to improve the quality of Head Start – a program that we know works," Murray said. "We should be increasing funding and resources so that Head Start can reach more of the children and families who need it most."

In Washington state, Head Start serves over 17,000 of the state's poorest children under the age 5. The federal government currently invests $6.5 billion per year to serve 3 out of 5 of eligible poor children nationwide. The states only invest $2 billion in preschools with the bulk of that funding benefiting only 10 states.

With the states facing $90 billion in budget shortfalls, Murray expressed concern that they would be unable to adequately administer Head Start programs.

Murray pressed Administration officials, asking, "Before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, tell me if you have any studies – anything at all – showing that any state preschool program has better results improving the achievement of low income students than Head Start does currently?"

Russ Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the Department of Education's research branch, admitted, "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."

The House of Representatives put off a vote on the controversial Republican plan last week. Some have speculated that the House leadership may not have the votes to pass the proposal.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Murray is on the front lines of promoting our investment in early childhood development.