Act on Head Start

Two kinds of programs have particular difficulty gaining congressional passage. One kind are those that are simply unpopular. The second: those that are so popular that members of Congress seek to append controversial proposals that otherwise might not pass.

If enough amendments are added, even the most agreeable proposal can become stalled in controversy.

That has happened to a bill that would reauthorize the Head Start program, for some 20 years a means of giving disadvantaged children an educational and social boost before they enter kindergarten. The measure has passed the US House but now is stalled in the Senate.

Liberals have added an amendment continuing block grants; Southerners want to add financial assistance to help the poor meet air-conditioning costs; and conservatives threaten to append a provision permitting youths to be paid a lower minimum wage than adults.

Inasmuch as only a week remains before scheduled adjournment, the Senate should take one of two actions: Either approve the House-passed version, or pass a bill without any amendments. Either way a worthy program would be certain of being continued at least two years. And either way the measure soon would go to the President to become law.

Senators should stop trying to add controversial programs with barely more than one week to go in this congressional session: Such action threatens the orderly continuance of the program. It is far better to have a definite authorization for at least two years than to continue the program for a few months under a continuing resolution, as would happen if the authorization measure were not passed. Enacting reauthorization is a more businesslike procedure. The authorization bill also would permit helpful administrative changes within Head Start.

The evidence is that Head Start does help young children compete in school. Educators who work with the young notice the difference it makes in individual children. A 20-year study released earlier this month of a small number of children in Ypsilanti, Mich., enrolled in Head Start in the early 1960s, found it had helped them. A larger percentage than in comparable communities had enrolled in college. They earned more money, committed less crime, and fewer were on welfare.

Americans retain their commitment to aid the disadvantaged. And in the wake of last year's reports of the requirements of American schools for more funding, as well as educational change, Americans are voting more money for their children's schooling.

The Senate should let other measures stand or fall on their own merits and approve the Head Start reauthorization bill.

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