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Keeping Public Schools Public

By Barbara Miner

The House bill calls for $6.8 billion in 2004, rising to $7.4 billion in 2008. Critics note the money barely covers inflation, let alone providing funding to expand the program. And it would be difficult or impossible at those funding levels to meet some of the bill's more admirable requirements-for instance, that Head Start increase its collaboration with state-based preschool programs, or that half of all Head Start teachers have four-year college degrees by 2008 and the other half have associate degrees.

Take the issue of college-trained teachers. The average salary for a Head Start teacher with a bachelor's degree in 2002 was $25,000, compared to the average kindergarten teacher salary of about $43,000. "It is unreasonable to expect that Head Start programs will be able to increase the proportion of teachers meeting higher formal education qualifications without addressing this salary differential," notes the Center for Law and Social Policy.

Amy Wilkins, executive director of the Washington, D.C., advocacy group Trust for Early Education, estimates that Head Start would need an additional $2.2 billion a year in funding just to pay teachers competitive salaries.

If the House bill becomes law, Head Start providers fear they will be forced to reduce the number of children they serve in order to meet the bill's new and more costly requirements.

Block Grants?

President Bush initially wanted to allow any state to take over Head Start via block grants, but a firestorm of protest forced the House to modify the proposal to a pilot program for eight states.

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