Is Head Start Obama’s “No Child Left Behind?”

Education Labor Organizing

New Orleans   HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has announced that about 132 Head Start agencies charged with providing pre-school education for the poor will go through “redesignation.”  Redesignation really means that they will lose their contracts and go through a rebidding process because they have been found deficient in some respect.  Many of the deficiencies seem trivial, but the impacts are large since agencies in parts of Los Angeles, New York City, St. Louis, and Houston are among the large districts impacted in this rebidding “auction.”

The Administration is spinning this as a push to make sure the poor are getting the best in Head Start services and support, and I hope so.  Unfortunately, the federal free-for-all on $7 billion in funding also seems somewhat political because Head Start though largely protected by funding cuts under Obama is under fire from different directions on how much impact the preparation for poor children in preschool has on long term performance.  I worry that Obama’s Head Start initiative here could become to Obama what Bush’s No Child Left Behind has been:  a critique without a program or solution!

Local 100 represents Head Start teachers and staff in Houston, Little Rock, and Shreveport, so we see the daily sweat, blood, and tears in good times and bad that dedicated workers give to educating these very young children to prepare them for the future.  When studies question whether or not the advantages of Head Start last past the 1st grade, we wonder whether Head Start is the problem or what happens in the increasingly beleaguered public school systems, where we also represent workers in Texas.  There are more and more expectations with less support and resources.

I wouldn’t say that Head Start should be a sacred cow, but attacking the programs after years of defunding and funding freezes under Bush and as one of the few remaining programs that seeks to give the poor a break early in their lives, seems risky politics and bad policy in these polarized times where the right is looking for more scapegoats.