U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today said Senate passage of the final version of legislation to reauthorize the Head Start program would help level the playing field between low-income students and their peers when they start school.
“We’re the only country in the world that believes that anything is possible,” said Alexander, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee responsible for the reauthorization of Head Start. “We don’t say leave just a few children behind, or that 80 percent of us are created equal. We set very high goals, and this bill is about making sure all Americans have a chance to get to the starting line ready to learn – that’s what Head Start does.”
Head Start has grown to a nearly $7 billion federal program that has served more than 900,000 children. Last year the program served 20,000 Tennessee students with $118 million in federal funding.
As a member of the conference committee that resolved differences between the Senate and House versions of Head Start reauthorization, Alexander supported program improvements that are a part of the final bill, including:
· The creation of 200 new Centers of Excellence that will serve as model Head Start programs across the country, and help provide examples of how to efficiently coordinate State, local, and federal efforts in early childhood education. These Centers of Excellence would be nominated by the governors, and each Center of Excellence would receive federal bonus grant of at least $200,000 in each of 5 years.
· The establishment of clear authority to Governing Boards to administer – and be held accountable for – the 1,700 local Head Start programs, while ensuring that parental Policy Councils continue to play an important role:
“Perhaps the most effective witness I heard in any of our hearings on Head Start was the mayor of Shelby County, Tennessee,” said Alexander. “Mayor A.C. Wharton testified that the dual governance structure between the governing board and the policy council was inadequate and neither body had sufficient decision making authority. This bill strikes a fair balance, and will ultimately allow for better service to children and their families.”
· The development of a system of renewal for all existing Head Start agencies in order to ensure a high level of quality.
“We like the idea that it could be the American century and we want to take full advantage of our main asset – the dream that anything is possible and that you can go from the back of the line to the front,” Alexander concluded.
A former governor, Alexander led Tennessee to become the first state to pay teachers more for teaching well. He is a former U.S. Secretary of Education and a current member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee tasked with reauthorizing Head Start. In February 2007, Alexander joined Senators Kennedy (D-MA), Enzi (R-WY) and Dodd (D-CT) in introducing legislation to reauthorize the Head Start program. Alexander was the author of a provision in the bill to establish 200 Centers of Excellence around the country to serve as model Head Start programs. This provision helped serve as the basis for a bipartisan compromise after years of debate in which members of Congress were unable to reach final agreement.
In June, the Senate unanimously passed the bill to reauthorize Head Start. Alexander served as a conferee on the committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions. The legislation, previously approved by the House of Representatives, passed the Senate today by a vote of 95 to 0. It will now be sent to the President for his signature.