U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today joined three key senators in introducing legislation to reauthorize and strengthen Head Start, calling the program “a key expression of our commitment to the American ideal of equal opportunity.”
“My good friend Alex Haley lived by these words: ‘Find the good and praise it’,” Alexander added. “This bill does exactly that, by allowing governors to nominate their most successful local programs as Centers of Excellence and hold them up as examples for others to follow. For example, Governor Bredesen could nominate any number of superior programs in Tennessee.”
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 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; and 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.
Alexander cited congressional testimony from parents, teachers, and particularly Mayor A. C. Wharton (D-Shelby County) as instrumental in helping shape the legislation. “Mayor Wharton reminded us that along with care must come accountability,” Alexander said. “Head Start is as vulnerable to poor management and even fraud as any other federal program. But using our tax dollars wisely means more than just policing their distribution. It means ensuring that our children receive the best care and education available.”
Jointly sponsored with senators Kennedy (D-MA), Enzi (R-WY) and Dodd (D-CT), the bill is tentatively scheduled for consideration this week by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.