NASET News Alert

Castle Bill

May 26, 2006

House Approves Castle Bill to Improve Head Start Early Childhood Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. September 22, 2005 – The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a bill to introduce greater competition into the federal Head Start early childhood program and use it to strengthen school readiness, increase the role of states and local communities in Head Start, and protect children and taxpayers against the abuse and mismanagement of federal Head Start funds.  The bill, the School Readiness Act (H.R. 2123), also restores hiring protections that had been stripped from faith-based organizations choosing to participate in the early childhood program.


“Today the House voted to strengthen and improve the Head Start program on behalf of the nearly one million children enrolled in Head Start each year,” said Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH).  “The bill will increase competition for Head Start grants, increase the role of states and local communities, and help ensure Head Start funds are used for their intended purpose: preparing disadvantaged children for kindergarten.”


"We all can agree on the need for Head Start and its successes.  We must also recognize that Head Start can produce even greater results for children,” said Education Reform Subcommittee Chairman Mike Castle (R-DE), author of the School Readiness Act.  “Students who attend Head Start programs do start school more prepared than those with similar backgrounds that do not attend Head Start.  However, Head Start students continue to enter kindergarten well below national norms in school readiness.  By moving to close this school readiness gap, this bill will improve results for almost a million Head Start students across the nation."


The School Readiness Act will strengthen the academic components of Head Start and remove barriers that hinder coordination between Head Start and successful state-run early childhood initiatives – major priorities for President George W. Bush.  The bill will also emphasize competition, as recommended this year by the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO), to improve program quality and combat financial mismanagement.

Some highlights of the School Readiness Act include:


More competition.  Local Head Start operators identified as having one deficiency or more during the five-year lives of their federal grants will be required to compete against other potential grantees when their grants come up for renewal.  Under current laws and regulations, such recompetition is too limited, the independent GAO has found.  The U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services, who oversees the Head Start program, will retain the right to terminate a Head Start grant at any time during the five-year grant cycle.  Grantees that meet all requirements will be designated as “priority” grantees.

Improved disclosure and transparency of Head Start.  The bill will require all Head Start grantees to make available to the public an annual report detailing how money was spent, the sources from which funds were received, and how the agency has performed in terms of meeting the requirements of the law.  An independent financial audit will also be required annually.

Greater role for states.  In order to qualify to receive a federal Head Start grant, organizations will be required to have objectives in place for improving school readiness that are aligned with state-developed K-12 academic content standards.  In order to be considered “priority” grantees, organizations entrusted with federal Head Start funds will be required to utilize curricula that are aligned with state-developed K-12 academic content standards and based in proven scientific research.  Grantees that fail to meet this standard will be required to compete with other potential grantees and will face the possibility of losing their federal grants.

Greater role for local school districts.  In order to be considered “priority” grantees, organizations entrusted with federal Head Start funds will be required to demonstrate active partnerships with local educational agencies (local school districts) serving the same communities to facilitate smooth transitions to kindergarten for their students.  Grantees that fail to meet this standard will be required to compete with other potential grantees and will face the possibility of losing their federal grants.     

Better safeguards against financial abuse.  Head Start operators will be required to meet a range of financial disclosure requirements as a condition of receiving and keeping their federal Head Start grants.  Grantees will have to be overseen by a local governance board that provides direction and actively oversees all program activities, and will be required to document that they have strong fiscal controls in place, including the employment of a well-qualified chief financial officer with a history of successful management of a public or private organization.  Grantees will also have to maintain administrative costs that do not exceed 15 percent of total program costs.   

Improved teacher quality.  In order to be considered “priority” grantees, organizations entrusted with federal Head Start funds will be required to have a teaching staff of at least 50 percent with AA degrees.  Grantees that fail to meet this standard will be required to compete with other potential grantees and will face the possibility of losing their federal grants.   The percentage of Head Start staff nationwide required to have BA degrees will be increased to 50 percent.

No new testing.  Like its 2003 counterpart, the School Readiness Act contains no new testing provisions.  The legislation will strengthen the academic components of Head Start without adding additional tests or assessments.

Improved school readiness.   The bill will emphasize “what works” in preparing disadvantaged children for school.  It will strengthen Head Start’s academic standards by emphasizing cognitive development and the results of scientifically-based research in topics critical to children’s school readiness (including language, pre-reading, pre-mathematics, and English language acquisition).  The changes would be similar to those adopted with strong bipartisan support for President Bush’s Reading First and Early Reading First initiatives, established in the No Child Left Behind Act for K-12 education.


During consideration of the School Readiness Act, the House adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) to protect the civil liberties of faith-based providers by clarifying that these institutions are not required to relinquish their Civil Rights Act hiring protections when they participate in the federal Head Start program.  The historic civil rights law explicitly protects the rights of religious organizations to take religion into account in their hiring practices, and former Democratic President Bill Clinton signed four laws explicitly allowing faith-based groups to staff on a religious basis when they receive federal funds.


“Now, more than ever before, we are seeing first hand the good work these groups are doing in my region of the country.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, faith-based organizations were among the first to reach out a hand in service to those impacted by the disaster,” said Boustany.  “It is critical that faith-based organizations that are willing to serve their communities by participating in federal programs are not forced to give up who they are to participate.”


“Our nation’s Head Start students deserve to be served by the very best organizations willing to lend a helping hand,” said Boehner.  “By restoring hiring protections for faith-based providers, the School Readiness Act ensures quality programs aren’t forced to choose between relinquishing their identities or being shut out of the program all together.”

CONTACT: Alexa Marrero or Kevin Smith
Telephone: (202) 225-4527


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