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Statement by Senator Edward M. Kennedy on Head Start: Ensuring Dollars Benefit the Children




I commend Chairman Enzi and Senator Alexander for their leadership and bipartisan work on our Head Start reauthorization bill.

For 40 years, Head Start has given disadvantaged young children the assistance they need to arrive at school ready to learn. Its wide range of services guarantees nutritious meals for children, an effective learning environment, and the chance to see doctors and dentists and be immunized against childhood diseases.

Thanks to the bipartisan cooperation of all the members of the Committee on this reauthorization, we have made significant progress on this lifeline for needy children.

We have done more to enhance the skills and qualifications of Head Start teachers, by establishing the goal that all Head Start teachers should have their A.A. degree and 50 percent should earn their B.A. degree.

The bill before us improves the educational aspects of Head Start, ensuring that its services are aligned with expectations for children in kindergarten, as accomplished by the effective Head Start Child Outcomes Framework.

We've also made an effort to increase accountability in Head Start. Most important, we've kept our promise to give local programs the resources for training and technical assistance to improve their performance. When a particular Head Start program has serious deficiencies, we've provided for timely action -- including possible re-competition -- to see that children receive the highest quality of services.

We've given additional flexibility to the programs at the local level. We've expanded eligibility requirements so that families up to 130% of poverty can participate. Often, these children are the neighbors of Head Start children but can't currently participate.

We've expanded Early Head Start, which serves zero to three year olds and has become especially effective since it was created in 1994. Our bill nearly doubles its funding so that over 50,000 more children will be able to participate.

Fortunately, we've agreed not to accept the President's proposal to block grant Head Start services. We preserve the community-based local structure of the program to ensure that the needs of neighborhoods and their children have the priority they deserve.

I look forward to continuing to work on certain other issues with my colleagues as the bill moves to the full Senate. My greatest concern is that the bill does not address the National Reporting System -- the Administration's assessment for 4- and 5- year-olds in Head Start. The Administration has proceeded with this assessment without sufficient authorization or oversight from Congress, and a GAO report released last week confirms many of our concerns: the assessment is flawed, and is not consistent with nationally-recognized standards for testing and measurement; the purpose of the reporting system is unclear, and has little value; and the Administration has failed to give adequate training to those responsible for testing children.

Obviously, dubious testing has no value in assessing the program or student performance.

We did reach a consensus on the coordination of Head Start with other early learning programs, including a new Council for Early Care and Education and an expansion of the Head Start Collaboration Office in each state. But more needs to be done to improve the quality of early care and education.

I also hope that once the bill is passed, we can work together to ensure that the teacher requirements we've included reach as many Head Start classrooms as possible. That means needed funds for teacher training and adequate compensation of Head Start teachers.

I commend my colleagues for the bipartisan progress we've made so far, and I also commend the many staffers on both sides of the aisle for all their impressive work in preparing this bill so well.

The Head Start Improvements for School Readiness Act Bill Highlights

Enables More Poor Children to Get a Head Start: • Current funding for Head Start is $6.84 billion. The President requested an increase of $45 million for FY2006 (not even enough to adjust for inflation). The bill authorizes an additional $300 million a year for Head Start in the first 3 years -- $7.215 billion for FY2006, $7.515 billion for FY2007, $7.815 billion for FY2008, and such sums as necessary for FY2009 and FY2010. • The set-aside for Early Head Start would be increased from 10% currently to 18% by 2010. • The migrant set-aside would be increased from 4% to 5%; the Indian set-aside would be increased from 3% to 4%. • The bill increases program eligibility for children in families with income up to 130% of poverty. (The current threshold is 100% of poverty.)

Strengthens the Head Start Workforce: • The bill strengthens the Head Start workforce by raising the minimum educational requirements for Head Start teachers. By September 30, 2010, all Head Start teachers would be required to at least have an AA degree. By September 2008, all Head Start assistant teachers would be required to have at least a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or be enrolled in a program leading to a CDA within 2 years. By September 30, 2011, 50% of all Head Start teachers in each Head Start program would be required to have a BA in early childhood education or a BA plus meet state specialized training requirements for pre-k teachers. Head Start agencies in states with higher standards for pre-k teachers would have to meet the higher state standards. If a Head Start agency not meeting the teacher requirements receives a waiver, teachers not meeting the minimum educational requirements will need to be supervised by a teacher who meets or exceeds the requirements. • All Head Start teachers would be required to have at least 15 hours of in-service training every year. • All Head Start staff working directly with children are required to have a professional development plan. Head Start agencies may use funds to provide assistance to current Head Start staff to complete college courses, including scholarships or tuition assistance or other financial arrangements to help their professional development. • The bill requires 2% of Head Start funds to be used for training and technical assistance (1% for Head Start agencies and 1% for the Secretary of HHS).

Strengthens Head Start Coordination and Collaboration: • State Head Start Collaboration offices would be strengthened and expanded to promote collaboration and coordination among programs serving young children; promote alignment of Head Start services with state school readiness standards; better coordinate professional development opportunities for Head Start staff such as assisting 2 and 4 year colleges to develop articulation agreements and awarding grants to colleges to develop model early childhood programs; and promote partnerships between Head Start agencies and other organizations to improve the Head Start curriculum to promote the inclusion of more books in Head Start classrooms.

• The bill authorizes funds for Centers of Excellence to model exemplary Head Start programs in every state.

Helps Improve Outcomes for Children: • States would be required to designate or create a state advisory council on early care and education from birth to school entry that would identify barriers to and opportunities for collaboration between federal and state programs; develop recommendations for establishing a unified data system; and develop a statewide professional development plan for early care and education in the state.

Strengthens the Academic Portion of Head Start: • The bill retains and strengthens the Head Start quality performance standards to ensure program quality and comprehensive services. • The bill strengthens the academic component of Head Start and requires Head Start agencies to set program goals. • To promote literature rich classrooms, every Head Start teacher would be required to receive on-going literacy training, including training in methods to promote phonological and phonemic awareness and vocabulary development, including methods to best reach the needs of English language learners. • The bill establishes a National Academy of Sciences panel to review appropriate Head Start academic requirements, appropriate assessments for young children, and requires a report to the Secretary of HHS within 1 year presenting expert recommendations.

Strengthens the Accountability of Head Start programs: • The bill requires deficient Head Start programs to recompete their grants when their program contract expires (5 years). • The bill strengthens the role of the Board in oversight of Head Start programs. • The bill improves Head Start accountability and monitoring, and requires each Head Start agency to conduct an annual self-assessment. Head Start agencies that find weaknesses in their self-assessment reviews would be required to come up with a plan addressing those problems so that they can be resolved as quickly as possible. • The bill improves community needs assessments and requires agencies to take quick action on underenrollment. • The bill imposes a salary cap on Head Start top staff.

The Bill Does Not Include:

• Block grants • State eligibility to run Head Start programs • Employment discrimination by federally funded religious organizations • Weakening of Head Start performance standards • Program defunding based on child testing

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