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Kline Statement: Hearing on "Strengthening Head Start for Current and Future Generations"

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Head Start, a program that plays an important role in the lives of many children and families. Head Start was designed to offer comprehensive services to three- and four-year-old children from low-income families so they could start school on a level playing field with their peers. What began as a summer school program has grown into a multi-billion dollar effort serving roughly one million children at approximately 1,600 centers across the country.

Today Head Start is one of the largest, most significant investments in early childhood education and development, both in the number of children being served and taxpayer dollars being spent. We know a great education can be the great equalizer. But we also know some children have a tough time adapting to the pressures of school, and that can be especially true for children living in poverty. Without the proper support, these students are more likely to fall behind in school and to fall through the cracks later in life.

Helping these children succeed in the classroom is a priority that has stretched across party lines for decades, and that has been reflected in the long-standing, bipartisan support for Head Start. It’s an important program, but it’s also a program that faces a number of challenges.

The most glaring example is the continued concern that Head Start isn’t providing children with long-term results. A 2010 study by the Obama administration found that the gains children receive in Head Start are largely gone by the time they reach the first grade. A follow-up study tracked the same children through the third grade and concluded:

“By the end of third grade there were very few impacts … in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health, and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children.”

As policymakers, we have to answer a number of important questions. How do we do better for both current and future generations? How do we ensure Head Start provides taxpayers a good return on their investment? How do we ensure Head Start delivers the long-term, positive impact these vulnerable children desperately need?

To help answer these questions, the committee earlier this year urged the public to submit ideas for reforming the program. At the same time, we outlined a number of key principles for reauthorizing the Head Start Act, such as reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens, encouraging local innovation, and enhancing parental engagement. We asked stakeholders and concerned citizens to tell us how we can turn these principles into a responsible legislative proposal.

Little did we know that as we were trying to strengthen Head Start through the legislative process, the administration was crafting a scheme to fundamentally transform Head Start through the regulatory process. No doubt we will discuss in greater detail the pros and cons of the administration’s regulatory proposal. However, we should all be deeply troubled by what are expected to be very harsh consequences if this proposal is implemented, including 126,000 fewer Head Start slots and 9,000 fewer instructors.

I am pleased the administration recognizes the need to improve Head Start, but I strongly urge Secretary Burwell to work with us on that effort through the reauthorization process. By working toward a legislative solution, I am confident we can provide low-income children the strong head start they deserve. I want to thank our witnesses for being a part of that effort as well, and I look forward to your testimony.