Sunday, January 4, 2004

Head Start expansion proposal criticized

Lack of social services cited

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - A proposal to expand the government's preschool program for the poor is being criticized for dropping some social services, such as nutrition and medical screenings.

Gov. Bob Taft's Head Start Plus program would provide all-day, year-round day care for 10,000 children from working-poor families. It would be coupled with traditional half-day, 10-month Head Start preschool.

Budget constraints would force the program to exclude certain social services that are part of Head Start, according to a reported released Wednesday by the Head Start Partnership Study Council. The Legislature created the 22-member panel to recommend how to implement Taft's program.

Three committee members issued minority reports objecting to some changes, and the panel recommended eliminating "Head Start" from the name because so many federal standards would be dropped.

Instead of providing some social services, a caseworker for every 33 families would help refer parents to outside agencies.

Taft sought the expansion partly because the state paid for many families to send their children to the half-day programs while also paying them child care subsidies. That's inefficent for parents and costly for the state, Taft said.

The new all-day Head Start slots would be in addition to 39,000 federally funded traditional Head Start spots in Ohio and 4,000 funded by the state.

The social services would be dropped to meet the administration's budget of $8,660 per child. Head Start providers said it would cost at least $10,000 to cover the cost of traditional Head Start and year-round child care.

Supporters said the social services are available elsewhere.

"Head Start was created in federal law before WIC (Women, Infants and Children), before Medicaid, before a number of programs that are the primary provider of these services," said Greg Moody, executive assistant to the governor for health and human services.

But Sen. Tom Roberts, a Dayton Democrat on the council, said the changes would destroy Head Start.

"You would no longer get the quality of services. Head Start is a comprehensive approach, and that would be absent," he said.

Sen. John A. Carey Jr., a Wellston Republican, said he has reservations about the new program.

"There will be some early child development, but it won't meet Head Start standards, and one of the concerns I have is that we need to do those health screenings to identify problems that might cause delays."

Carey submitted one minority report, and a second one was written by Roberts, Cincinnati Democratic Rep. Catherine L. Barrett and the Ohio Head Start Association.


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