President Obama's increased funding for Head Start will helping underprivileged children and families

March 1, 2009

Head Start representatives are pleased with the $2.1 billion increased funding going to their proejct, which they say will almost entirely go to needy families to better the lives of children.

Head Start executives say they are pleased that the economic stimulus package will contain $2.1 billion for the program, with funds to be distributed by need.

During the campaign, then-candidate Obama said he would quadruple Early Head Start, increase Head Start funding, and improve quality for both-although that promise was not tied to the stimulus.

Funding to the program, others pointed out, can go right into an existing structure of local grantees in the most economically depressed neighborhoods.

Part of the resources could be spent for infrastructure repairs such as facility maintenance and upgrading older, inefficient buildings. Part could be used for transportation, Herndon said. Other advocates suggested converting many half-day programs to full-day, to better serve working parents. Funds could also be used to help teachers meet recent requirements for baccalaureate degrees.

They pointed out that the programs provide childcare, education, health care, nutrition, family support, and referrals for parents to job training and education. But, they said, less than 40% of children eligible for Head Start, and 2% of infants and toddlers eligible for Early Head Start, are being helped.

Lucia Palacios, executive director of the Orange County, Calif., Head Start, said, "Head Start employs teachers, teachers' assistants, case workers, food service personnel, maintenance staff, and a myriad of business and service professionals...In addition, we contract with hundreds of local vendors from supply companies, the construction companies, plumbers, painters, and maintenance contractors, demonstrating the great investments we make into our local economy."

Aaron Lieberman, head of Acelero Learning, a for-profit Head Start provider in Nevada and New Jersey, also argued that 90% of Head Start jobs are filled by women, many of whom are household heads. Many other stimulus package jobs are founded in construction, which employs few women.

The association calls for over $1.3 billion of the funds to go to actual program expansion. But Palacios argued that even increases in current teachers' salaries are likely to put money quickly back into the economy, since they are paid an average of only $23,000 to $25,000.

Asked whether Head Start might be better served by a funding increase within an early childhood education legislation in the first months of the administration, Lieberman said, "The short response is we can't wait, as more families are pushed into poverty and the needs grow in the communities we serve every day."

The stimulus package announced in the House also includes $2 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant, an extra $87 billion to increase federal payments to states for Medicaid, and $8.6 billion for Medicaid coverage for the unemployed.

KATHRYN FOXHALL is a contributing editor to Contemporary Pediatrics.