TOPICS > Politics

Head Start

July 25, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST

TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: Now the federal government and Head Start. Kwame Holman begins with a report on the close vote overnight in the house.

KWAME HOLMAN: Head Start was created 38 years ago, to give disadvantaged children a running start into kindergarten. The federally run program provides preschool reading and math instruction, as well as essential nutrition and health services to some 900,000 children. Head Start long has been considered a worthwhile program among most members of Congress. Early this morning, after a contentious debate, the House of Representatives reauthorized Head Start for five more years, but for the first time, voted to shift some control of the program from the federal government to the states.

The bill would create a Head Start pilot program for eight states, allowing them to design their own early childhood programs, funded with federal Head Start grants. The state programs would have to “meet or exceed” national quality standards, but would not have to follow the detailed federal regulations that apply to local Head Start centers. Democrats called the pilot program nothing more than a block grant, and said it signaled the eventual end of Head Start. New Jersey’s Rush Holt:

REP. RUSH HOLT: Certainly, in my district, as in districts all over the country, Head Start has been a tremendous success– I.Q. gains, reading and writing, math skills improved, high school graduation, significantly greater, the need for special education, reduced; crime reduced. So if it’s so good, why overhaul it?

KWAME HOLMAN: But the bill’s sponsor, Delaware Republican Mike Castle, produced a study showing that, in recent years, Head Start children have fallen below the national average in reading and math.

REP. MICHAEL CASTLE: Believe me, these are numbers which tell you these kids aren’t going to make it in schools. This is absolutely why we have to challenge Head Start; that’s why we need to go a state demonstration to make sure it’s brought in with all the other state programs which exist.

KWAME HOLMAN: The changes in the Head Start program satisfied all but 12 Republicans, just enough for the bill to squeak by over the unanimous objections of Democrats.

SPOKESMAN: The ayes are 217, the nays 216.

KWAME HOLMAN: But the outlook in the Senate is unclear. At an education committee hearing this week, Chairman Judd Gregg of New Hampshire said academic and accountability improvements are needed in Head Start.

SEN. JUDD GREGG: I don’t wish to reinvent the wheel. I think we have basically a very strong product to work from in the present Head Start program, but I think there are ways to make it a better program for the children who are participating in it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Gregg did not say whether he would add the House- designed Head Start pilot program to the Senate’s bill.

RAY SUAREZ: Margaret Warner picks up the story from there.

MARGARET WARNER: Here to debate last night’s House move to revamp Head Start, we’re joined by two members who led the fight on opposing sides: Republican Congressman John Boehner of Ohio, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee; and Congressman George Miller of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat. Welcome to you both. Congressman Boehner, what’s wrong with the way Head Start works now? Why did you push to let these eight states essentially take over the program?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well there’s broad agreement that Head Start needs to do better. It’s doing a lot of very good things for needy children, but if we are going to succeed in leaving no child behind when it comes to education, we’ve got to expect more from Head Start. And so there is broad agreement on changes to the basic program. But we also believe.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me interrupt you. What do you mean do better?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Children in Head Start are not prepared to do well in school. As the chart that Mike Castle had on the floor last night indicated, they’re in the 21st percentile of being read. 50 percent being the average — those kids are going to have a chance doing well in school, we’ve got to do better in terms of getting their educational needs up to par so they’re ready to enter school.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Miller, you objected to this?

REP. GEORGE MILLER: I did strenuously object to it. The chart you saw that Congressman Castle had said that children in Head Start are below average. We know that. These are the most impoverished children in the nation. The fact of the matter is by the time they finish kindergarten, they’re about average. It shows us that Head Start lays a strong foundation for the children to enter kindergarten and enter first, second and third grade and that they have substantial gains in terms of reading and writing skills and I.Q. skills in the Head Start program.

This is our most successful program. I appreciate people wanting to turn it over to the states. There is no state that can demonstrate that they run this kind of program for this population of children that comes anywhere near to the outcomes that these children have with Head Start. And we all agree that it should be improved. The educational component should be strengthened. Teacher professionalism should be improved as Senator Gregg and Chairman Boehner has worked for, we are all in agreement with that. But the block grant makes no sense in terms of trying to deliver a quality program for these children.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Boehner, what makes you believe that letting states run it or run their own version of it will improve the academic standards are readiness of the students?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Many states have made big commitments to early childhood development pre-kindergarten programs. We believe it is worth a try to allow up to eight states who already invest significant amounts of money, who are willing to meet high standards and to make a commitment to poor children, that they ought at least be able to try to effort to see what would happen, to better coordinate services for this population. And that would be Head Start. It would be child care programs, other state services that can be better packaged to meet the needs of these children and their families to see, in fact, whether they can produce better results than we’re seeing in the regular Head Start program.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Boehner, just a factual question. What would happen in one of these states to the existing Head Start centers?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Under the legislation that was approved by the house last night, we guarantee all of those centers that they would continue to receive their federal funding. So the money is going to go to those centers, but it would allow the governors to better coordinate those Head Start centers with state-run programs, to see in fact whether better results and children, better ready to go to school, could in fact be achieved.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Miller, what is wrong with that idea of just having that experiment those eight states?

REP. GEORGE MILLER: The closer reading of the bill will show you the senators can write it right out of the state plans so that doesn’t hold true. The fact of the matter is that the states really don’t have that much experience in pre-k programs for this population. And none of them have a program that comes close to the results and the outcomes that we get with Head Start. So we’re troubled by the idea that we would turn this money over to the governors instead of giving it directly to the local communities, to the Head Start councils to the parents who run and govern and localize and customize these programs for the benefit of these children. The interesting approach, of course is that the governors could take this money, supplant it against other federal dollars, not state dollars and take the other federal dollars and use them in the state system. There you can start to see the formula that is the demise of the Head Start program, a lessening of the quality of the Head Start program, because, again, a close reading of the bill, the language in the bill, none of the Head Start performance standards in the regulation that are integral to the successes that we have need to be carried forward to the state under this law. You are really talking about the ability of the governor to water it down, to cover more children for less hours, less parts of the year and then diminish the critical, critical mass that we have in terms of the results that we get with Head Start.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask Congressman Boehner about the funding point you raised, Congressman Miller. When you said the Head Start centers will continue to receive federal funding but no longer from the federal government, right?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Under the bill that was passed last night, they will.

MARGARET WARNER: They will?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: They will.

MARGARET WARNER: The governors will not have control over it?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: They will not have control over the money but they will have better control over program and be able to coordinate the services Head Start produces, combine it with state standard for early childhood development, align them with their school standards and better align the services provided so that these children may have a much better chance of succeeding in schools. Change here in Washington is very difficult.

MARGARET WARNER: Was Congressman Miller correct when he said that somehow the governors could use this funding to perhaps supplant other funding that they’re doing in preschool and free up…

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: We don’t believe under the legislation we passed last night that there is in way for a governor to supplant these funds or to use them in any other way other than for the benefit of disadvantaged children.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Miller.

REP. GEORGE MILLER: Let me explain how it can be done. In Congressman Boehner’s state of Ohio, they have an expansive pre-k early childhood education program. They’ve reduced the funding 100 percent. They’re using their welfare reform dollars to fund the program. Under the proposal, they can bring in the Head Start Paula Corbin Jones, replace the welfare reform dollars and the governor can use the welfare reform dollars to do something else in the state and then not have the requirements of Head Start for those programs that he would run in the name of Head Start. That’s exactly how it is done.

That’s why the bill doesn’t state you can’t supplant other federal dollars in the state. It just says you can’t supplant state and local dollars. It intentionally leaves out other federal dollars that the governors can then move to other accounts.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Congressman Miller, you said earlier the point of this you thought was to dismantle Head Start.

REP. GEORGE MILLER: This is very similar to ma they’re doing with Medicare. If you want prescription drugs, they really want to you get out of the Medicare system. If you want early childhood education, they want you out of the federally-run Head Start program. This is consistent, I don’t say with Congressman Boehner’s philosophy but with this administration’s philosophy.

They really don’t want the federal government taking the responsibility for and running these programs. In this particular case what the federal government does is set out the quality standards and performance standards and sends the funding directly to the local community so it can be run locally. So you have to wonder why they’re doing it because there’s nobody in the field that thinks this is a good idea or integral to improving those things that we agree should be improved in Head Start.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Boehner, President Bush in his state of the union did call for this to happen in all states. And you all came up with the eight-state pilot program idea. But is this, in your view, really the first step to doing this nationwide and essentially turning all this over to the states?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: No one is trying to dismantle Head Start. It’s a program that has done an awful lot of good for an awful lot of well deserved children. The fact is that we need to do better. And we need to have these children better prepared for kindergarten. And we’ve got to find ways and look at new methods for how we might improve the ability of these children to do well in school.

These children deserve more than what we are getting today. And I think all of us here in Washington understand that we have to help the lowest income children in our country if in fact we are going to succeed in educating all of our children.

MARGARET WARNER: But what I’m asking is, is Congressman Miller right that basically philosophically, this is driven philosophically at least by Republicans’ view that it would be better if the federal government weren’t involved?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: I don’t think that’s the case. I think what we are trying to do here is trying to determine if the state demonstration projects, up to eight states that might qualify, if in fact they can prove better results, why not continue to take a look at it? But if we don’t try it, we’ll never know, and the people who deserve this pilot program more than any are needy children who are counting on us to make sure they really do have a Head Start in school.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Miller, what is wrong with the idea of just letting the eight states see if they can prove they can do better?

REP. GEORGE MILLER: Because what you have with Head Start is a national program designed with very serious performance standards and accountability standards. It is a program that every five years this Congress has continuously improved. We sort of used a theory for manufacturing or from the business world, that you make continuous improvement in this program in terms of assessments, in terms of accountability, in terms of monitoring, in terms of the curriculum, in terms of the comprehensive services.

Every president and every Congress, no matter what party, that has been the process that we have continued to use. These eight states that they keep talking about or the original plan as you pointed out to every state in the union was going to have a block grant, they’ve demonstrated none of the ability to do this. They’ve demonstrated none of the results that we get for this very difficult population. They’ve demonstrated none of the gains. So what is it I’m gaining by turning it over to them?

We have best practices going on, we have all kind of different methodologies being tried with the Head Start population and that’s why you see improvement in terms of the outcome of the children. We both agree this can be substantially improved. There is basic agreement between the democrats and the republicans. Title two, you circumvent the performance standards for the high quality this program delivers we’re against that.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. As Kame’s piece said we’ll have to see what happens in the Senate. Thank you both.

RAY SUAREZ: Now the federal government and Head Start. Kwame Holman begins with a report on the close vote overnight in the house.

KWAME HOLMAN: Head Start was created 38 years ago, to give disadvantaged children a running start into kindergarten. The federally run program provides preschool reading and math instruction, as well as essential nutrition and health services to some 900,000 children. Head Start long has been considered a worthwhile program among most members of Congress.

Early this morning, after a contentious debate, the House of Representatives reauthorized Head Start for five more years, but for the first time, voted to shift some control of the program from the federal government to the states. The bill would create a Head Start pilot program for eight states, allowing them to design their own early childhood programs, funded with federal Head Start grants. The state programs would have to “meet or exceed” national quality standards, but would not have to follow the detailed federal regulations that apply to local Head Start centers. Democrats called the pilot program nothing more than a block grant, and said it signaled the eventual end of Head Start. New Jersey’s Rush Holt:

REP. RUSH HOLT: Certainly, in my district, as in districts all over the country, Head Start has been a tremendous success– I.Q. gains, reading and writing, math skills improved, high school graduation, significantly greater, the need for special education, reduced; crime reduced. So if it’s so good, why overhaul it?

KWAME HOLMAN: But the bill’s sponsor, Delaware Republican Mike Castle, produced a study showing that, in recent years, Head Start children have fallen below the national average in reading and math.

REP. MICHAEL CASTLE: Believe me, these are numbers which tell you these kids aren’t going to make it in schools. This is absolutely why we have to challenge Head Start; that’s why we need to go a state demonstration to make sure it’s brought in with all the other state programs which exist.

KWAME HOLMAN: The changes in the Head Start program satisfied all but 12 Republicans, just enough for the bill to squeak by over the unanimous objections of Democrats.

SPOKESMAN: The ayes are 217, the nays 216.

KWAME HOLMAN: But the outlook in the Senate is unclear. At an education committee hearing this week, Chairman Judd Gregg of New Hampshire said academic and accountability improvements are needed in Head Start.

SEN. JUDD GREGG: I don’t wish to reinvent the wheel. I think we have basically a very strong product to work from in the present Head Start program, but I think there are ways to make it a better program for the children who are participating in it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Gregg did not say whether he would add the House- designed Head Start pilot program to the Senate’s bill.

RAY SUAREZ: Margaret Warner picks up the story from there.

MARGARET WARNER: Here to debate last night’s House move to revamp Head Start, we’re joined by two members who led the fight on opposing sides: Republican Congressman John Boehner of Ohio, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee; and Congressman George Miller of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat. Welcome to you both. Congressman Boehner, what’s wrong with the way Head Start works now? Why did you push to let these eight states essentially take over the program?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well there’s broad agreement that Head Start needs to do better. It’s doing a lot of very good things for needy children, but if we are going to succeed in leaving no child behind when it comes to education, we’ve got to expect more from Head Start. And so there is broad agreement on changes to the basic program. But we also believe.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me interrupt you. What do you mean do better?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Children in Head Start are not prepared to do well in school. As the chart that Mike Castle had on the floor last night indicated, they’re in the 21st percentile of being read. 50 percent being the average — those kids are going to have a chance doing well in school, we’ve got to do better in terms of getting their educational needs up to par so they’re ready to enter school.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Miller, you objected to this?

REP. GEORGE MILLER: I did strenuously object to it. The chart you saw that Congressman Castle had said that children in Head Start are below average. We know that. These are the most impoverished children in the nation. The fact of the matter is by the time they finish kindergarten, they’re about average. It shows us that Head Start lays a strong foundation for the children to enter kindergarten and enter first, second and third grade and that they have substantial gains in terms of reading and writing skills and I.Q. skills in the Head Start program.

This is our most successful program. I appreciate people wanting to turn it over to the states. There is no state that can demonstrate that they run this kind of program for this population of children that comes anywhere near to the outcomes that these children have with Head Start. And we all agree that it should be improved. The educational component should be strengthened. Teacher professionalism should be improved as Senator Gregg and Chairman Boehner has worked for, we are all in agreement with that. But the block grant makes no sense in terms of trying to deliver a quality program for these children.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Boehner, what makes you believe that letting states run it or run their own version of it will improve the academic standards are readiness of the students?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Many states have made big commitments to early childhood development pre-kindergarten programs. We believe it is worth a try to allow up to eight states who already invest significant amounts of money, who are willing to meet high standards and to make a commitment to poor children, that they ought at least be able to try to effort to see what would happen, to better coordinate services for this population. And that would be Head Start. It would be child care programs, other state services that can be better packaged to meet the needs of these children and their families to see, in fact, whether they can produce better results than we’re seeing in the regular Head Start program.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Boehner, just a factual question. What would happen in one of these states to the existing Head Start centers?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Under the legislation that was approved by the house last night, we guarantee all of those centers that they would continue to receive their federal funding. So the money is going to go to those centers, but it would allow the governors to better coordinate those Head Start centers with state-run programs, to see in fact whether better results and children, better ready to go to school, could in fact be achieved.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Miller, what is wrong with that idea of just having that experiment those eight states?

REP. GEORGE MILLER: The closer reading of the bill will show you the senators can write it right out of the state plans so that doesn’t hold true. The fact of the matter is that the states really don’t have that much experience in pre-k programs for this population. And none of them have a program that comes close to the results and the outcomes that we get with Head Start. So we’re troubled by the idea that we would turn this money over to the governors instead of giving it directly to the local communities, to the Head Start councils to the parents who run and govern and localize and customize these programs for the benefit of these children.

The interesting approach, of course is that the governors could take this money, supplant it against other federal dollars, not state dollars and take the other federal dollars and use them in the state system. There you can start to see the formula that is the demise of the Head Start program, a lessening of the quality of the Head Start program, because, again, a close reading of the bill, the language in the bill, none of the Head Start performance standards in the regulation that are integral to the successes that we have need to be carried forward to the state under this law. You are really talking about the ability of the governor to water it down, to cover more children for less hours, less parts of the year and then diminish the critical, critical mass that we have in terms of the results that we get with Head Start.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask Congressman Boehner about the funding point you raised, Congressman Miller. When you said the Head Start centers will continue to receive federal funding but no longer from the federal government, right?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Under the bill that was passed last night, they will.

MARGARET WARNER: They will?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: They will.

MARGARET WARNER: The governors will not have control over it?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: They will not have control over the money but they will have better control over program and be able to coordinate the services Head Start produces, combine it with state standard for early childhood development, align them with their school standards and better align the services provided so that these children may have a much better chance of succeeding in schools. Change here in Washington is very difficult.

MARGARET WARNER: Was Congressman Miller correct when he said that somehow the governors could use this funding to perhaps supplant other funding that they’re doing in preschool and free up…

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: We don’t believe under the legislation we passed last night that there is in way for a governor to supplant these funds or to use them in any other way other than for the benefit of disadvantaged children.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Miller.

REP. GEORGE MILLER: Let me explain how it can be done. In Congressman Boehner’s state of Ohio, they have an expansive pre-k early childhood education program. They’ve reduced the funding 100 percent. They’re using their welfare reform dollars to fund the program. Under the proposal, they can bring in the Head Start Paula Corbin Jones, replace the welfare reform dollars and the governor can use the welfare reform dollars to do something else in the state and then not have the requirements of Head Start for those programs that he would run in the name of Head Start. That’s exactly how it is done. That’s why the bill doesn’t state you can’t supplant other federal dollars in the state. It just says you can’t supplant state and local dollars. It intentionally leaves out other federal dollars that the governors can then move to other accounts.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Congressman Miller, you said earlier the point of this you thought was to dismantle Head Start.

REP. GEORGE MILLER: This is very similar to ma they’re doing with Medicare. If you want prescription drugs, they really want to you get out of the Medicare system. If you want early childhood education, they want you out of the federally-run Head Start program. This is consistent, I don’t say with Congressman Boehner’s philosophy but with this administration’s philosophy. They really don’t want the federal government taking the responsibility for and running these programs.

In this particular case what the federal government does is set out the quality standards and performance standards and sends the funding directly to the local community so it can be run locally. So you have to wonder why they’re doing it because there’s nobody in the field that thinks this is a good idea or integral to improving those things that we agree should be improved in Head Start.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Boehner, President Bush in his state of the union did call for this to happen in all states. And you all came up with the eight-state pilot program idea. But is this, in your view, really the first step to doing this nationwide and essentially turning all this over to the states?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: No one is trying to dismantle Head Start. It’s a program that has done an awful lot of good for an awful lot of well deserved children. The fact is that we need to do better. And we need to have these children better prepared for kindergarten. And we’ve got to find ways and look at new methods for how we might improve the ability of these children to do well in school. These children deserve more than what we are getting today. And I think all of us here in Washington understand that we have to help the lowest income children in our country if in fact we are going to succeed in educating all of our children.

MARGARET WARNER: But what I’m asking is, is Congressman Miller right that basically philosophically, this is driven philosophically at least by Republicans’ view that it would be better if the federal government weren’t involved?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: I don’t think that’s the case. I think what we are trying to do here is trying to determine if the state demonstration projects, up to eight states that might qualify, if in fact they can prove better results, why not continue to take a look at it? But if we don’t try it, we’ll never know, and the people who deserve this pilot program more than any are needy children who are counting on us to make sure they really do have a Head Start in school.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Miller, what is wrong with the idea of just letting the eight states see if they can prove they can do better?

REP. GEORGE MILLER: Because what you have with Head Start is a national program designed with very serious performance standards and accountability standards. It is a program that every five years this Congress has continuously improved. We sort of used a theory for manufacturing or from the business world, that you make continuous improvement in this program in terms of assessments, in terms of accountability, in terms of monitoring, in terms of the curriculum, in terms of the comprehensive services. Every president and every Congress, no matter what party, that has been the process that we have continued to use.

These eight states that they keep talking about or the original plan as you pointed out to every state in the union was going to have a block grant, they’ve demonstrated none of the ability to do this. They’ve demonstrated none of the results that we get for this very difficult population. They’ve demonstrated none of the gains. So what is it I’m gaining by turning it over to them? We have best practices going on, we have all kind of different methodologies being tried with the Head Start population and that’s why you see improvement in terms of the outcome of the children. We both agree this can be substantially improved. There is basic agreement between the democrats and the republicans. Title two, you circumvent the performance standards for the high quality this program delivers we’re against that.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. As Kwame’s piece said we’ll have to see what happens in the Senate. Thank you both.