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Home > Advocacy > CWLA 2007 Children's Legislative Agenda > Head Start


CWLA 2007 Children's Legislative Agenda

Head Start

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  • Reauthorize the Head Start program and continue its mission as a comprehensive child development, child care, and child- and family-focused program with strong program performance standards.

  • Substantially increase funding for Head Start and Early Head Start and reverse recent trends that have reduced the number of children served.

  • Provide increased funding that will allow the percentage of Head Start teachers with a bachelor's degree to increase, but do not mandate such changes without the necessary financial support.

  • Oppose efforts to turn Head Start into a block grant to states through waivers, pilot projects, or other mechanisms that would divert funding from local providers.

  • Reject the use of the National Reporting System (NRS) pending expert evaluation of this system. Any assessment of Head Start must be appropriate, culturally and linguistically responsive, and based on measures developed by an independent body of experts.

  • Maintain and preserve the role of parent councils and parental involvement in the governance of local Head Start programs.


Created in 1965, Head Start began as an eight-week summer program designed to help break the cycle of poverty by providing preschool children of low-income families with comprehensive services that meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional, and psychological needs. Today, Head Start serves more than 900,000 children.
Head Start's continued goal is to ensure that every child enters school physically, emotionally, and educationally prepared to begin formal learning. The program's annual self-assessment includes indicators of each child's progress. Studies indicate that by the spring of their kindergarten year, children in Head Start have substantially increased their word knowledge, letter recognition, and math and writing skills. 1 Preliminary results from a randomly selected longitudinal study of more than 600 Head Start graduates show that graduates in kindergarten also had higher final grades in numeracy, language, literacy, social conduct, and physical development, and were absent 4.5 fewer days than their non-Head Start peers. 2
Head Start functions not just as a child care and education program, but also as a comprehensive effort to promote child development. Head Start offers services that are unique and critical to children's development, addressing their social, emotional, physical, and health needs. Head Start recognizes that both families and communities are important to the program's success; consequently, partnerships serve as an important part of its structure. Children's wellness and health are important concerns for Head Start programs. Head Start also seeks to fully include children with disabilities as a way to help all children, parents, and staff in the program.

Head Start was expanded in 1994 to include a new Early Head Start program that extends services to pregnant women, infants, toddlers, and their families. The 1998 reauthorization of Head Start increased the funds set aside to expand Early Head Start from 7.5% in 1999, to 10% by 2003. It also dedicated specific amounts of annual funding increases to quality improvements. In 1999, 60% of increased funding was dedicated to quality; the remaining 40% of new funds was dedicated to program expansion. In 2000, 50% of funding increases went to quality, and 50% went to program expansion. By 2003, 25% of funding increases was dedicated to quality, while the remaining 75% went to program expansion.

Head Start enrollment steadily increased throughout the 1990s, from 540,930 children in 1990, to 857,664 in 2000. Significant investments were made in program and staff quality and education during these years, which contributed to Head Start's success. Due to lesser investments in the past four years, however, Head Start enrollment has stalled. Between 2003 and 2004, Head Start experienced its first decline in enrollment since 1986-1987, when enrollment dropped by 5,000. National enrollment was 912,345 in FY 2002, but fell to 906,993 in FY 2005. Recent figures show that Head Start still serves less than 60% of the children that qualify for services.

Today, 145 tribal Head Start and 40 tribal Early Head Start programs in 26 states serve 21,288 children ages 3 to 5, and 2,335 infants and toddlers. Tribal programs are run directly by tribes or tribal consortia.

The Reauthorization Debate

In the last session, Congress again considered the reauthorization of Head Start-a debate that began in 2003. Congress also set FY 2006 funding for Head Start at $6.8 billion, a near freeze in funding from the 2005 level.

In 2003, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a Head Start reauthorization bill that contained a controversial proposal that allowed up to eight states to receive Head Start funding as a block grant instead of the current structure that provides dollars directly to local Head Start programs. The controversy over the proposed block grant created a contentious debate, and the House bill passed by a one-vote margin, 217 to 216. In 2003, the Senate never voted on Head Start reauthorization, but a bill did pass in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), with key members indicating their opposition to a block grant proposal. After several months of discussion, the HELP Committee adopted a bill by unanimous vote that did not include the block grant. Further debate on the Senate floor never took place that year.

In 2005, the House of Representatives did not consider a Head Start reauthorization that included a block grant, but adopted the School Readiness Act (H.R. 2123) instead. The legislation was not adopted, in part, because the changes included in the House reauthorization dealt with: Head Start providers re-competing with other agencies to keep their programs, the role of local councils and the influence of parents on local programs, the education requirements for Head Start teachers, and the level of funding. Another issue in 2005, and one that continues to divide some advocates, was the proposal allowing faith-based providers to discriminate in their hiring decisions.

The Senate HELP Committee also passed legislation (S. 1107) in 2005 that was similar to the House version in rejecting a block grant, but differed in some areas. Again, the Senate failed to debate a reauthorization on the floor before the end of session. The differences between the House and Senate bills in the 2005-06 session included: the level of proposed funding for the program; increased teacher requirements; how quickly these teacher requirements must be met and whether the requirements are applied against each center or on a national basis; the role of local parent policy councils in governance of Head Start programs; use of the National Reporting System (NRS) to test Head Start children; and whether local Head Start providers can restrict hiring on the basis of religious beliefs.

2007 Debate

The 110th Congress will have on its agenda the reauthorization of Head Start. Some of the same issues that the previous Congress debated will likely resurface. These debates will be about funding levels, income eligibility, the role of testing and accountability for Head Start, Head Start teacher requirements, and the role of policy and parent councils.

The issue of teacher qualifications revolves around what education requirements a teacher should have and how soon. Strong evidence shows that teachers with higher education backgrounds have a positive effect on and improve outcomes for preschool children. The questions are how soon the new higher standards should be implemented and whether Congress will provide the necessary funding.
In the 109th Congress, the House legislation required 50% of Head Start teachers have a bachelor's degree by 2011, with the requirement applied nationally. The Senate bill also required 50% of teachers meet this standard by 2011, but applied the requirement to each center. The Senate version created a stricter standard since not all centers are similarly situated and some may not have the same access to higher education infrastructure. Additionally, both bills set teacher standards for associate degrees. A 2006 analysis by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) indicated that the House bill's teacher standards will cost at least $2.7 billion to implement over six years, while the Senate bill will cost as much as $3.4 billion to implement. 3 The cost estimates include such items as the cost of tuition and higher salary requirements.
Policy and parent councils will also be discussed again in the 110th Congress. As a way to strengthen oversight of Head Start programs, both the Senate and House bills made changes to local Head Start boards and the role of policy councils. Senate proposals debated in committee during the last Congress, although not agreed to, raised concerns over parental involvement by making policy councils advisory, with little real authority or influence. The House bill provided a greater role for policy councils.

How all of these issues are resolved will help determine how rapidly legislation is adopted in 2007.

Key Facts

  • In 1965, Head Start served 561,000 children. In 2005, the program served more than 906,993 children. As of 2005, Head Start has served more than 22 million children since its creation. 4

  • Children in Head Start receive significantly more health care screenings and dental examinations than do their peers not enrolled in Head Start. 5

  • Since 1972, Congress has required that at least 10% of the children whom a Head Start grantee serves be children with disabilities. Of the total Head Start population nationwide, nearly 13%, or more than 115,000 children, are children with disabilities. 6

  • A review of 40 early childhood programs, including Head Start, found positive long-term effects on parent or teacher ratings of antisocial behavior and actual delinquency records. 7

  • FY 2004 funding for Head Start was $6.8 billion, serving approximately 60% of all eligible children. Eligibility for Head Start is limited to 100% of the federal poverty level. 8

  • Head Start includes more than 1,604 grantees, comprising 49,235 classes. Staffing for Head Start totals 213,000, including approximately 43,497 teachers. More than 1.3 million volunteers are involved-including 880,000 parents. 9

  • Of Head Start enrollees,

    • 52% are age 4;
    • 34% are age 3;
    • 5% are age 5;
    • 9% are under the age of 3;
    • 31.1% are African American;
    • 31.2% are Hispanic;
    • 26.9% are white; and
    • 3.1% are American Indian-Alaskan Native. 10

  • An evaluation of state preschool services found that Head Start, for the most part, offers a more comprehensive set of higher quality services than states have offered through preschool programs. 11

  • A recent study of state-funded preschools revealed that between 1977 and 1998, only 13 state-funded preschools formally evaluated the effectiveness of their programs on the children they served. Unlike the Head Start Impact Study, none used randomly assigned control groups, and some had no control groups, both of which are important features of a sound, scientifically-based research effort. 12


  1. Commissioner's Office of Research and Evaluation, Head Start Bureau. (2001). Head Start FACES (1997): Longitudinal findings on program performance: Third progress report. Available online. Washington, DC: Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. back
  2. Meier, J. (2003, June). Kindergarten readiness study: Head Start success, interim report. San Bernardino, CA: Preschool Services Department of San Bernardino County. back
  3. Ewen, D. (2005). Cost of meeting House and Senate proposed Head Start teacher qualification requirements. Available online. Washington, DC: Center For Law and Social Policy. back
  4. Administration on Children and Families, Head Start Bureau. (2006). Head Start program fact sheet for fiscal year 2004. Available online. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  back
  5. Marcon, R. (2002). Moving up the grades: Relationship between preschool model and later success. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 4(1). Available online. Champaign: Early Childhood and Parenting (ECAP) Collaborative at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. back
  6. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). (2003). Head Start Act (Report 108-208). Available online. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. back
  7. Yoshikawa, H. (1995). Long-term effects of early childhood programs on social outcomes and delinquency. The Future of Children, 5(3), 51-75. Available online. back
  8. National Head Start Association. (2002). Head Start yellow pages (7th ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author. back
  9. Head Start Bureau. (2006). 2006 Head Start fact sheet. Washington, DC: Administration for Children and Families. back
  10. Head Start Bureau. (2006). 2005 Head Start fact sheet. Washington, DC: Administration for Children and Families. back
  11. Ripple, C., Gilliam, W., Chanana, N., & Zigler, E. (1999). Will fifty cooks spoil the broth? American Psychologist, 54(5), 327-343. back
  12. Gilliam, W., & Zigler, E. (2000). A critical meta-analysis of all evaluations of state-funded preschool from 1977 to 1998: Implications for policy, service delivery, and program evaluation. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15, 441-473. back

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