WASHINGTON – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD), Education Committee Ranking Democrat Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Education Reform Subcommittee Ranking Democrat Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Education Committee Members Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), and Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) along with children who participate in Head Start, today held a press conference to criticize the Republican bill to dismantle and undermine the hugely successful Head Start program. The following is Rep. Hoyer’s statement as prepared for delivery:
“Thank all of you for joining us today – and let me thank all of you for coming to this big building and being with this group of strangers.
“These kids don’t know it, but they are the reason that we are here this afternoon. They are our future. They are our hope. They are our promise. And we cannot – we must not – let them down.
“Either tomorrow or Friday, the Republican majority is going to put legislation on the House floor that will begin to dismantle the Head Start program that serves these kids and more than 900,000 other three- to five-year olds in every state in this nation. Let me be as clear as I possibly can: 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 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.
“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. House Democrats are virtually united in opposing this GOP bill and united in our support of Head Start.”