Coalition letter written to Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee

October 25, 2003

Dear HELP Committee Member:

For decades now, the successful Head Start preschool program has prepared nearly 20 million of America’s neediest children for success in kindergarten and later life. Tomorrow, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will meet to consider legislation to reauthorize this program. The reauthorization bill filed last week contains some worthwhile provisions that should become law. But the bill contains a number of provisions we believe would undermine the healthy development of young children. Unless these provisions are corrected, we urge you to vote “no” on the bill.

Of greatest concern are the provisions that would implement an unworkable set of “outcomes” that would be expected of three- and four-year old Head Start children, and tie children’s progress on meeting these outcomes, as well as their scores on standardized testing, to continued funding of Head Start grantees. As filed, the outcome-funding linkage in the bill would raise the bar to such an impossibly high level that few, if any, Head Start programs – or private early education childhood programs for that matter – could clear it. This would result in potentially widespread disruption as current Head Start grantees are defunded, including truly outstanding local programs that are doing wonderful work to help America’s neediest children.

The linking of potentially problematic outcome standards and curriculum to assessments that will be used to make funding decisions about local programs raises serious concerns about whether this bill will be good for the learning and readiness for school of this nation’s most at-risk children. Experts have questioned whether many of the outcomes included in the bill are beyond the skills of the most advantaged three- and four-year olds. Science should determine what goals we have for our nation’s poorest children and what happens in Head Start classrooms.

We urge you to strike provisions of the bill related to outcomes and assessments and instead to give the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) the latitude needed to develop outcomes and assessments that are scientifically-based and age and developmentally appropriate in terms of what young children should know and how progress should be measured and improved. Given the broad-based consensus not to test children for accountability purposes before grade three in the “No Child Left Behind” Act, it simply is unacceptable for Head Start funding to be linked so closely to outcomes and assessments.

Among the other problematic provisions in the bill as filed are: re-competition of all grantees every five years, including high quality programs; the absence of a minimum for training and technical assistance funding, which should be set at two percent to ensure that programs can continue to improve quality; potential broad waiver authority; the lack of additional funding to pay for the increased qualification requirements for Head Start teachers; and failure to adequately address access to the programs for Limited English Proficient, migrant and seasonal farmworker, and American Indian/Alaskan Native children.

Head Start is an exemplary program that has a well-deserved reputation for delivering quality services to this nation’s neediest children. We urge this Committee to reject any and all proposals that will undermine the continued success of Head Start.

Sincerely,

The Alliance for Children & Families
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
American Federation of School Administrators
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSMCE)
American Friends Service Committee
The Arc of the US
Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Center for the Child Care Workforce
Center for Women Policy Studies
Chicago Area Project
Child Care Law Center
Child Welfare League of America
Children’s Defense Fund
The Children’s Foundation
Coalition on Human Needs
The Development Co.
Easter Seals
The Episcopal Church, USA
GRACE Public Fund
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Lutheran Services in America
National Advocacy Center for the Sisters of the Good Shepard
National Association of Protective and Advocacy Systems
National Center on Poverty Law
National Coalition for Campus Children’s Centers
National Education Association (NEA)
National Indian Head Start Directors Association
National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association
National Priorities Project
National Women’s Law Center
NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund
Peace and Social Justice Ministry, Catholic Diocese of Joliet
RESULTS
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
Single Mothers of Color on the Horizon
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Auto Workers (UAW)
United Cerebral Palsy (UCP)

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