Senate Votes Down H.R. 1 that Would Cut Head Start Funding, Alternative Options Weighed

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The U.S. Senate rejected a bill previously passed by the House last month that would cut federal Head Start funding by a total of 25 percent and risk ending services for pre-school aged children from low-income families, according to the National Head Start Association.

The bad news: an alternative Senate bill, which would have preserved funding for Head Start, was also rejected. NHSA said that negotiations over federal spending would continue among House and Senate leadership a Vice President Biden. Both the House and Senate must act on federal spending prior to March 18 to avoid a federal government shut down.

NHSA used data from the Center for Law and Social Policy and calculated that 218,220 total children could be lost from the Head Start and Early Head Start programs nationwide if HR 1 passes Congress and is signed by President Obama. Head Start received $7.2 billion in regular appropriations in fiscal year 2010 and an additional $2.1 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment funds that were spend in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. HR 1 trims the current Head Start budget to slightly more than $6.1 billion.

Meanwhile, NHSA said 55,000 Head Start personnel could lose their jobs. It was unknown how many of these estimated children rely on school bus service to get to and from local programs.

Head Start and Early Head Start serves more than 1.1 million children. There are nearly 2,900 Head Start nationwide that have more than 56,000 classrooms. NHSA said that Head Start classrooms could be trimmed down to 40,000 if HR goes into effect.

More than 40,000 NHSA members sent messages to congressional members last month asking them not to cut Head Start. According to NHSA, citing a 2007 study on the benefits of and costs of Head Start, every dollar invested into the federal education program for low-income preschool children results in an ROI of $7 to $9. That same year, Dr. James Heckman, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, presented research that the greatest return on investment in human capital comes when programs like Head Start target the earliest years. Head Start showed a higher return than regular preschool programs, schooling and job training. In fact, the rate of return decreases as a person grows older.

NHSA also pointed out that Head Start graduates are more likely to graduate from high school than their peers NHSA also said the program can reduce health care costs for eventual employers because obesity, non-immunizations and smoking are less of an issue in adults who were enrolled in Head Start as children.