WASHINGTON – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) delivered the following statement last night on the House Floor during debate on the reauthorization of the Head Start program (H.R. 2210). All House Democrats voted against the misguided bill, which passed by one vote (217-216):
“Mr. Speaker, let’s be clear about what the Republican Majority is proposing today: they are asking this body to begin to dismantle Head Start, one of the most successful government programs in American history.
“Head Start serves more than 900,000 three- to five-year olds in every state in this nation every single year. My Democratic colleagues and I are not standing here today just reflexively defending Head Start because Lyndon Johnson signed it into law in 1964.
“No, we are here defending Head Start – and to expose the GOP’s bill that is designed to dismantle it – because Head Start works! Head Start teaches reading, writing, mathematics and language skills. Head Start provides comprehensive services that increase school readiness – health and mental health screenings and services; nutrition dental and vision services; and extensive parent involvement and education. And Head Start combines local control with strong federal quality standards.
“In fact, Head Start is one of our most evaluated education programs – and over the last 29 years it has helped millions of children do better in school and achieve more in life. But now, House Republicans, through H.R. 2210 (the misnamed “School Readiness Act”), are trying to unravel head start. They want to end it. They would like nothing more than to see 50 state programs run by 50 state governors.
“This bill would create a new block grant program for eight states without requiring any of the federal Head Start program performance standards. What’s that really mean to parents and their children? It means that states could run Head Start programs with lower educational standards, minimal comprehensive services, and less oversight and accountability. Now, doesn’t that strike any of you as odd?
“It should, because the intent of this bill directly contradicts our bipartisan recognition in the No Child Left Behind Act – that the federal government needed to establish high educational standards and tough accountability for the educational achievement of low-income children because the states had not done so.
“In essence, the Republicans are proposing that we turn our three- to five-year olds in Head Start over to the states even though the premise of the No Child Left Behind Act is that states are not currently serving low-income children.
“And as the Los Angeles times stated recently: ‘Now, when states are in precarious financial shape, is hardly the time to dismantle the program’s [Head Start’s] federal management.’
“Let me close by saying, despite our best efforts in Head Start, we still are not doing enough for low-income children. Right now, Head Start is only serving 6 out of every 10 eligible preschool children because of inadequate funding. That’s 600,000 American children left behind! And it’s simply unconscionable. It’s unconscionable in the greatest nation on the face of the earth. And it’s unconscionable when Republicans talk about leaving no child behind, but then propose a budget for FY04 for Head Start that barely covers inflation. I urge my colleagues to vote for the Democratic offered by the gentleman from California (Mr. Miller).”