House Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Ranking Member

Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.


Fact Sheet

November 13, 2007

H.R. 1429 Conference Report: Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act
Strengthening the Head Start Early Childhood Education Program

Head Start is a great program, capable of achieving even greater results. While the resources to fund Head Start are significant, more work is needed to achieve the ultimate program goal of closing the readiness gap between Head Start children and their more advantaged peers as they enter kindergarten.  Studies indicate that children enrolled in Head Start make some progress, but still lag behind national norms in all aspects of school readiness.  Data from the Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) and the findings of a Head Start Impact study suggest that Head Start participants show progress on some measures after completing a year in Head Start, but not in others, and on balance remain below the national average.  These data indicate that in some cases Head Start children are entering kindergarten without the knowledge and skills that are good predictors of later school success.

In addition, a March 2005 report from the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned the financial control system in the Head Start program is flawed and failing to prevent multi-million dollar financial abuses that cheat poor children, taxpayers, and law-abiding Head Start operators.

The Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 (H.R. 1429) seeks to strengthen the program by closing the readiness gap, addressing weaknesses in the Head Start financial control system, and strengthening early childhood services for disadvantaged children.

Strengthen Head Start’s Academic Components by:

•    Emphasizing “what works” in preparing disadvantaged children for school.  The conference agreement would strengthen Head Start’s academic standards by emphasizing cognitive development and the results of scientifically-valid research in topics critical to children’s school readiness (including language, reading, mathematics, and English language acquisition).  By strengthening the academic components of Head Start and maintaining comprehensive services, the legislation improves upon the good work that Head Start is doing in centers across the country.

•    Improving teacher quality in Head Start.  The conference agreement would ensure that a greater number of Head Start teachers are adequately trained and educated in early childhood development, particularly in teaching the fundamental skills of language, reading, and mathematics.  In order to ensure this, the measure would require that at least 50 percent of Head Start teachers nationwide in center-based programs have a bachelor’s or advanced degree in early childhood education or related field by September 30, 2013. 

•    Strengthening academic quality standards.  The conference agreement establishes education performance standards to ensure Head Start students develop language knowledge and skills; reading knowledge and skills that prepare children for early literacy in schools; mathematics knowledge and skills; cognitive abilities related to academic achievement and child development; social and emotional development, early learning, and school success and sustained academic gains; and in the case of limited-English proficient children, progress toward acquisition of the English language.

•    Ensuring that early childhood education programs are based on Scientifically-Valid Research – The conference agreement requires that curriculum and other materials used in Head Start classrooms be based on “principles of scientific research” and “scientifically valid research”.  This important change will ensure that Head Start children receive a quality early childhood education based on valid and reliable research and not fads, helping them to prepare for kindergarten.

•    Requiring no new testing.  The conference agreement would maintain current law with respect to regular local assessments of the academic progress being made by children enrolled in Head Start.  No new testing would be mandated under the bill.  The agreement also retains language added during Committee consideration by Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) to protect the confidentiality of records for children participating in assessments under the Head Start program.  It also ensures parents have access to information or records regarding their children and protects the confidentiality of those records.

Improve Fiscal and Program Management by:

•    Creating more competition in the Head Start system.  Under the conference agreement, to receive a Head Start grant, a local nonprofit or faith-based organization must submit a comprehensive plan to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The application would be reviewed under a new system established by an expert panel charged with crafting a process through which a Head Start agency’s ability to provide a quality comprehensive early learning program that meets the educational, health, and nutritional needs of the children and families it services would be evaluated. The bill requires local Head Start operators that fail to meet these requirements to compete against other potential grantees when their grants come up for renewal.  The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, who oversees the Head Start program, would retain the right to terminate a Head Start grant at any time during the five-year grant cycle. 

•    Seeking better safeguards against financial abuse. The conference agreement would require Head Start operators to meet a range of financial disclosure requirements as a condition of receiving and keeping their federal Head Start grants.  Grantees will have to be overseen by a local governance board that provides direction and actively oversees all program activities, and will be required to have at least one member who has background and expertise in fiscal management and accounting.  The grantees would also have to document that they have strong fiscal controls in place, including the employment of well-qualified financial personnel with a history of successful management of public or private organizations.  All board members would be required to receive training in management responsibilities and obligations, ethics, and financial literacy and management and must assure active, independent, and informed governance of the Head Start agency, including independent oversight of the financial and management practices of such agency. 

•    Limiting excessive salaries and perks.  The conference agreement limits the compensation of a Head Start employee to Executive Level II – that of an Assistant Secretary – which equals $168,000.  The language seeks to limit previous problems found within Head Start agencies where employees received excessive salaries, exorbitant bonuses, and sometimes gifts of cars or other luxury items. 

•    Improving disclosure and transparency of Head Start.   The conference agreement would require all Head Start grantees to make available to the public, an annual report detailing how money was spent, the sources from which funds were received, and how the agency has performed in terms of meeting the requirements of the law. 

Establish a Greater Role for States, Local School Districts, and Parents by:

•    Creating a greater role for states and local school districts in Head Start.  The conference agreement requires Head Start applicants to have objectives in place for improving school readiness.  The bill also requires organizations entrusted with federal Head Start funds to demonstrate active partnerships with local school districts focused on facilitating smooth transitions to kindergarten for their students.

•    Strengthening the role of parents.  Parents have long played an important role in local Head Start programs.  To ensure parents continue to have the opportunity for involvement in their children’s early childhood education, the conference agreement strengthens opportunities for parents to ensure Head Start programs are operating effectively.  The bill ensures parents will have better access to information about how their children’s Head Start centers are being run; improves disclosure and requires the board to act in consultation with a parent policy council; and requires Head Start grantees to demonstrate strong parent involvement and establish activities to develop parent skills to support their children’s educational development.

Expanding the Reach and Impact of Head Start Programs by:

•    Expanding the role of Faith-based organizations to participate in Head Start programs.  The conference agreement maintains references explicitly allowing faith-based organizations to be designated as Head Start agencies and to be eligible providers of Head Start services, similar to those provisions included in the House bill.  These provisions recognize the unique and vital role that faith-based organizations play in providing social services to low-income families and students. 

•    Addressing the unique needs of children in migrant & seasonal and Indian Head Start programs.  The conference agreement strengthens support for the migrant and seasonal, and Indian Head Start programs by: directing a share of expansion funding to both Indian and migrant and seasonal Head Start and conducting a comprehensive analysis to reveal how the populations are being served and ensuring children in migrant and seasonal Head Start programs are making progress in English language acquisition along with all other academic components.

•    Removing barriers to ease enrollment of homeless children.  The conference agreement would ensure that homeless children are identified and prioritized for enrollment in Head Start programs by allowing homeless families to apply to, enroll in, and attend Head Start programs while required documents, such as proof of residency, immunization and other medical records, and birth certificates are obtained within a reasonable time frame.

•    Preserving all current health and nutrition services for Head Start children.  The conference agreement would preserve and extend all of the existing health and nutrition-related components of the Head Start program.