July 24, 2003 – Delegate Donna M. Christensen and fellow members of the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues took to the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday in protest of the re-authorization of the Head Start program as proposed by the Bush administration.
In a release from her office, Christensen said that she and her colleagues expressed concerns about changing Head Start "into a block grant program with a narrow focus that eliminates some of the help that poor children receive under the current program."
"Headstart is a program that works," she said. "The proposed re-authorization would tamper with a program that has been successful" in the Virgin Islands as well as the rest of the nation, she said.
She expressed concern that giving the states and territories control over the pre-school learning enrichment program would threaten the quality of education provided to children by eliminating the current performance standards.
Head Start was begun in 1965 as a part of President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" program to fight poverty in the United States. "The federal standards create an early equality of opportunity for children who would otherwise spend a considerable portion of their formative years catching up," Christensen said.
According to the delegate, the most troubling part of the proposed Head State changes in the Bush administration bill, H.R. 2210, is the placing of the program under state control at a time when many states and territories are facing budgetary deficits.
Given the fiscal and administrative challenges these states and territories face, she said, "Eliminating the federal standards subjects our children to disparities in the quality of education based on economic and geographic region. These are the very disparities that Head Start was designed to address!"
Christensen noted that in her home district, the Virgin Islands, "the government predicts a deficit of over $150 million" for the current fiscal year. States and territories in such circumstances, she said, "would be tempted to use Head Start dollars to fill gaps in their own programs and spread dollars more thinly."
She also said that the unfunded mandates of the Bush administration's Leave No Child Behind Act will put additional pressure on localities to commit less money to early childhood education.
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