U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today praised the approval of the Head Start Conference Report, saying the final version of the bill will help less-privileged young Americans get to the starting line on par with their peers so that they may fully realize their educational dreams.
“America believes in equal opportunity, and Head Start brings us closer to that goal,” said Alexander, a member of the House-Senate conference committee that wrote the final version of the legislation. “This bill helps disadvantaged children have a more solid foundation to prepare them for success in school. In addition to helping students, this bill allows state governors to ‘find the good and praise it’– as my good friend Alex Haley used to say – by nominating their most successful local programs as Centers of Excellence and holding them up as examples for others to follow.”
Head Start has grown to a nearly $7 billion federal program that has served more than 900,000 children. Last year in the program served 20,000 Tennessee students with $118 million in federal funding.
Improvements to the Head Start program in the bill include:
Requiring grant recipients to “re-compete” for their funding every five years to help ensure a constant, high level of quality.
Clearly defining the standards by which local Head Start providers will be held accountable
Providing 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 keeps the right focus on those children who were falling through the cracks,” concluded Alexander. “I’m pleased this bill will help those students gain access to the same educational, health, nutritional, social and other services enjoyed by their more affluent peers.”
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 Heath, 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 its version of Head Start reauthorization. Before it becomes law, the final version of the bill must be approved by the full House and Senate before being sent to the President for his signature.