Posted on October 29, 2003
WASHINGTON — As chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander today praised the bipartisan Head Start reauthorization bill unanimously approved by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. "President Bush has challenged Congress to improve Head Start in four major respects — readiness, accountability, coordination, and state involvement," Alexander said. "This bill achieves those goals." The legislation includes Alexander's proposal to increase state involvement in Head Start by authorizing the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a nationwide network of 200 Centers of Excellence in Early Childhood built around exemplary Head Start programs. Governors would nominate the centers, and the Secretary of HHS would select 149 Centers of Excellence. The Secretary would name an additional 51 centers, with a goal of having at least one Center of Excellence in each state. The bill authorizes $90 million for the Centers of Excellence. The provision involves states to help strengthen and coordinate Head Start but continues to send federal funds directly to the grantees for the 19,000 Head Start centers that serve one million disadvantaged children. The Head Start bill includes three additional Alexander provisions:
- Combat pay for soldiers: Alexander has held a series of hearings on the challenges that face military parents raising children. One of the common problems he heard about was troops losing social service benefits when they receive combat pay. This bill ensures that a military family receiving combat pay would not be ineligible for Head Start because of the income supplement.
- More funding for Tennessee: During the program's 38-year history, a disparity has occurred in allocating money to the states. To address this problem, the bill says that 65 percent of any new money for Head Start will be allocated on a priority basis to those states that are underfunded. Tennessee is one of these states and will receive a larger share of new money.
- Accountability for agencies: The bill makes it easier for grantees to fix problems at a Head Start center. Grantees will now have the ability to defund agencies that have serious deficiencies after providing technical assistance to the agency, such as monthly monitoring visits. Funding can be held and granted on a reimbursement basis instead of in advance.