U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today said the Senate’s passage of a bill to strengthen and reauthorize Head Start will provide an equal opportunity for all young Americans to fully realize their educational dreams.
“Head Start exemplifies one of the great principles of what it means to be an American- that we believe in equal opportunity,” said Alexander, an original sponsor of the bill along with three Senate colleagues. “Americans uniquely believe that each of us has the right to begin at the same starting line, and that, if we do, anything is possible. This is a program that touches a lot of people, and this bill recognizes the program’s importance while making it stronger.”
Alexander, a former U.S. Secretary of Education, was the driving force behind an amendment to the bill that would establish 200 Centers of Excellence around the country to serve as model Head Start programs.
Other provisions of the bill the Senate approved by unanimous consent this week would:
Require grant recipients to “re-compete” for their funding every five years to help ensure a constant, high level of quality.
Clearly define the standards by which local Head Start providers will be held accountable
Provide 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.
Head Start has grown to a nearly $7 billion Federal program that has served more than 900,000 children. Last year in Tennessee the program served 20,000 students at a cost of $18 million.
Alexander cited congressional testimony from parents, teachers, and particularly Shelby County Mayor A. C. Wharton (D-Shelby County) as instrumental in helping shape the legislation.
“Mayor Wharton and others reminded us that we need to be careful about how we handle this issue,” Alexander said. “I appreciate the mayor's concern, and I appreciate that note of caution.”
The bill was jointly sponsored with Senators Kennedy (D-MA), Enzi (R-WY) and Dodd (D-CT).
Alexander now will sit on the conference committee with other congressional lawmakers from both the House and Senate who will craft the bill’s final version before it is sent to the White House for President Bush’s signature.