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.
New Orleans Comcast deigned to meet with representatives of Local 100 United Labor Unions in their offices in Houston on Monday. Once again they tried to slather the butter on the bread with stories of their “good intentions” about internet access for the poor. Once again they promised that they would get back to us. Once again when we asked for real numbers of enrollees and real numbers of goals for outreach and enrollment, the only replies we could get still added up to “no.”
Orell Fitzsimmons, field director for Local 100, sitting in the meeting with a number of our leaders from Head Start units at Gulf Coast and Avance, who knew how little had been done to inform and enroll the children – and parents – they serve, had an excellent line for the Comcast representative. He informed Comcast clearly that, “We are not a faith-based organization. We can’t take your word on how well you think you are doing. We have to know the facts and the real numbers.” Fitzsimmons later told me he even quoted Ronald Reagan at one point from the old SALT missile days, and told Comcast we would need to be able to “verify.”
Maybe we weren’t hearing correctly, but the Comcast VP – they all seem to be VPs – seemed to be saying “make me!” Furthermore he seemed to be insinuating that only the FCC could make them produce the numbers. If that’s the case, then that’s where we will have to go to make this program work, if Comcast won’t live up to its promises.
On another front there was a report on possible progress for some of the homeowners facing foreclosure. The story, as always, was disconcerting when it came to the codependence of the feds with the banks. HUD secretary Shaun Donovan seemed to be wheeling and dealing to buy off different states to accept a deal which would reduce mortgage levels by a small number (the Times reported $20,000 per mortgage, which is a trickle in many communities), and tried to buy off California’s AG with a disproportionate share of the settlement. Luckily, it appears that a number of the state attorneys generals are hip to the fact that the banks only real interest seems to be a “get out of court free” card from them, which Donovan and the feds seem more than willing to help facilitate. Fortunately for many struggling homeowners a number of AGs are insisting that they will not waive their right to sue for the banks shenanigans.
At this point given how long suffering many homeowners have been and how many have already lost their houses, we all ought to hope for real justice, since clearly the time for a quick fix is long gone.