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As Head Start Turns 50, Witnesses Highlight Role of Family and Local Engagement

The Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), today held a hearing to discuss the importance of Head Start and how to improve the program for current and future generations. Members learned from child development and education experts how quality programs can make a difference for low-income children and what reforms Congress should consider as it works to reauthorize the Head Start Act.

“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,” Chairman Kline said. “We know a great education can be a 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 fall through the cracks later in life.”

Witnesses shared Chairman Kline’s sentiments and went on to describe the value of the services Head Start provides while also reinforcing the need for family engagement, local innovation, and community-based solutions.

“High-quality Head Start programming … can have an immensely positive impact by helping children to catch up on these crucial skills before it is too late,” Dr. Matthew Biel, Division Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Georgetown University said. Dr. Biel emphasized that Head Start reaches its highest potential when parents are engaged in the process. “Interventions that do not engage the family are destined to be less effective,” he said.

In addition to underscoring the importance of family engagement, witnesses expressed the importance of local innovation in adapting each Head Start program to best meet the needs of the community it serves.

“The exact combination of services designed by local grantees must be responsive to each child and family’s ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage,” said Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, who served for four years as the director for the Office of Head Start in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Sanchez Fuentes went on to share her personal experiences adapting a local Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program to meet communityneeds. She also spoke about programs in Alaska that modified their hours to be responsive to the unique challenges facing homeless families. “As you work and consider changes to improve the Head Start program, it will be critical to maintain the community based structure,” she urged.

Drawing from his 46 years of experience working with Head Start, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of National Centers for Learning Excellence Dr. Tim Nolan agreed with Sanchez Fuentes, cautioning members, “Don’t allow ‘one size fits all’ program designs” as the reauthorization process moves forward.

“Head Start is an important program, but it’s also a program that faces a number of challenges,” Chairman Kline said. “By working toward a legislative solution, I am confident we can provide low-income children the strong head start they deserve.”

To learn more about today’s hearing, read witness testimony, or to watch an archived webcast, visit

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