Congress renews early learning program (with video) |

Congress renews early learning program (with video)

Emma Garrard / Sierra SunYaritza Martinez, 4, Lesly Reyes, 4, Mariana Contreras, 4, and Julian Magana sing during a holiday party at Head Start in Truckee Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Tahoe-Truckee families with pre-school children may have more Head Start programs available in the new year after federal lawmakers renewed their financial commitment to the nationwide program.Seven Head Start programs located in North Tahoe and Truckee will see a boost in their budgets as a result of a $7.5 billion federal spending plan recently signed into law.No one is yet in a position to know how much that will mean to the local programs, said Executive Director Denyse Cardoza of the Placer Community Action Council.Cardoza said her agency, also known as KidZKount, operates 26 of the pre-school programs in Placer and Nevada counties, including seven in the Tahoe Basin and Truckee.Pre-school is only one of the several services that Head Start provides, Cardoza said.We serve prenatal to 5 years old. It is a family program; thats where the difference is. [Head Start] serves the whole child by serving the family, Cardoza said of the program that assists families in lower-income brackets.

Head Start [admissions are] based on the poverty level which is $20,650 per year for a four-person household, said Coordinator Michael Zito of the Head Start-State Collaboration Office. A single parent with one child would have to earn less than $13,690 to be eligible.Local chapters of Head Start offer physical and mental health screening and nutrition programs for children, she said. If the child is not healthy, what good is the academic? Cardoza said.Cardozas budget is just under $6 million annually, an amount she said had been augmented only once since 1998, receiving a cost-of-living increase or COLA of 1 percent, about $75,000.She said the congressional reauthorization funds, passed as a bipartisan bill in the U.S House of Representatives and Senate and signed into law by President George W. Bush on Dec. 12, will most likely go toward funding the local services that KidZKount offers in the Tahoe area.We are going to be able to get the Head Start program up to operating standards instead of having spending constraints, she said. That is not to say KidZKount has cut programs in the absence of new funding. KidZKount remained a viable service to the community by restructuring the administrative end of the organization, she said. I have come up through the ranks I was a home visitor, she said. You have to take care of those people that are touching the [childrens lives] first.The federal funds are critical, needed not only to pay for the childrens programs but to subsidize teacher education programs, said Ellen Nelson, the lead teacher at the Truckee Pines Head Start facility.Cardoza said many of the programs are partnerships with other local community-based organizations, such as Truckees Sierra Teen Education andamp; Parenting Program and the local school district.The Kings Beach Head Start Early Development Center is called a wraparound, because it offers an almost full day of programming 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., for all 20 participating families by combining financial recourses from the California Department of Education and Head Start, according to site supervisor and teacher Abby Osborn.

Head Start began in 1965 as one of President Lyndon B. Johnsons programs in his War on Poverty campaign.Now, almost 42 years later and after languishing in Congress since 2003, President Bush has re-authorized the family-centric pre-school program, with reservations.I am deeply disappointed that the bill ends the National Reporting System, our only tool to examine consistently how Head Start children are performing in programs across the nation, he said in a Dec. 12 statement. I am also disappointed that the bill fails to include my proposal to protect faith-based organizations religious autonomy.Bush also criticized the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 for increasing spending for the Head Start program, according to an article in Education Week.The act could provide funding for 125,000 more children over the next five years, according to a press release issued by California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O Connell.

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