By U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D)
We often hear people say that our children are our future, but Congress recently acted on that sentiment and passed a five-year reauthorization of the Head Start program that will benefit nearly 1 million children nationwide and approximately 12,000 children in Maryland.
The Head Start program was created in 1965 as part of President Johnsons War on Poverty. It provides comprehensive child development services to economically disadvantaged children and families with a special focus on pre-school reading and math skills.
It promotes school readiness by improving social and cognitive development through educational, health, nutritional and other services. Since its inception, Head Start has reached approximately 24 million children, preparing them for success in school and in life.
Head Start consists of two programs: Head Start, which reaches children ages 3-5, and Early Head Start, which provides services for children from birth to age 3.
The Head Start reauthorization bill, which has passed both houses of Congress, will provide $7.3 billion for the program next year, including increased funding that will allow an additional 8,000 children nationwide to enroll in the Early Head Start program. Its a big investment, but one thats proven to pay off. A highly regarded, 40-year longitudinal study has shown that for every dollar invested in high-quality early education, there is a $16 dollar return later in life.
Research shows that the Head Start programs work. Low-income children who attend the program make significant gains in vocabulary, writing and letter recognition, and they have access to health care. These children arrive at school prepared to do better academically than children not enrolled in the program.
Head Start succeeds because it takes a holistic approach in which families participate and are involved. Services are directed not just at the child, but at the child as part of a community and family. Parental participation is a core value of the program.
Head Start also is designed to be flexible so that programs can be tailored to the needs and strengths of each community. Underlying this flexibility is a core program that focuses on health, social services and education.
Every time I visit a Head Start program in Maryland, I am impressed by the enthusiasm and excitement I see in the children. Head Start works because it nurtures academic and social success, just what we want for all children.