New Data: $3.4 Billion Head Start ‘Funding Gap’ Seen as Congress Moves to Raise Teacher Requirements
A U.S. Senate bill expected to be voted on this summer would force Head Start programs to add or “upgrade” more than 33,000 teachers to meet requirements for more bachelor’s and associate degrees. Despite the plan, Congress has made no arrangements to cover the “funding gap” that would climb to $3.4 billion over six years, according to new data released this week by the nonprofit Center for Law and Social Policy.
The National Head Start Association warned that the new unfunded requirements would burden a system already weakened by mounting service cuts, many of which were the result of other unfunded federal requirements. If the teacher requirements are enacted without the funding to pay for them, NHSA leadership expects to see further service cuts, including teacher layoffs and limited hours of operation to cover the gap.
“It seems clear that everyone agrees on the value of requiring more teachers with advanced degrees in Head Start classrooms,” says CLASP senior policy analyst Danielle Ewen. “But it seems imprudent to impose such a dramatic new requirement without first making sure that it is paid for in full.”
“I want to be clear that we are all for more teachers with B.A.s and A.A.s in Head Start classrooms. This is something we have been working towards for a number of years now,” adds NHSA president and CEO Sarah M. Greene. “If Congress wants to speed things up, it needs to make sure that it doesn’t do so by robbing Peter to pay Paul. Otherwise, federal lawmakers will end up triggering massive cuts in Head Start services and, ironically, in the very ranks of the teachers in which they are so concerned.”
“The Senate bill’s well-intentioned — but unfunded — teacher requirements could backfire,” says Judy Battista, education manager of Holyoke/Chicopee/ Springfield Head Start Inc. “In the late 1970s, our Head Start program set out on an ambitious course to require all of our teachers to have bachelor’s degrees. But our funding would not allow us to pay them salaries comparable to their degrees and they ended up leaving Head Start for public school jobs, where salaries and benefits are almost twice what we are able to pay. While we did everything possible to make it work, we had to abandon our stringent requirements and be more flexible in our hiring practices … Unfortunately, the Senate bill does not recognize this reality of how things would work.”
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