US health secretary proposes expanding Head Start program in Chicago visit

SHARE US health secretary proposes expanding Head Start program in Chicago visit

CHICAGO — President Barack Obama’s health secretary announced proposed regulations Tuesday for Head Start that would expand the 50-year-old early-learning program to a full school day and a full school year to better prepare children for kindergarten.

The program’s current minimums are 3.5 hours a day and 128 days a year. Proposed new minimums would raise that to six hours a day and 180 days a year.

Only 57 percent of current Head Start preschool children are getting services for six or more hours a day, and only 31 percent receive services for 180 days or more, the administration said.

The new requirements are based on the “best practices and evidence of many years to improve the way we implement Head Start at the federal level,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said during a visit to a Chicago preschool.

Rules simplification would eliminate about one-third of the regulatory burden on Head Start, Burwell said. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, appearing with Burwell, said that’s good news because the system is unnecessarily complicated.

“That’s a ticker-tape parade event” when rules are streamlined, said Emanuel. Illinois has more than 40,000 children in Head Start and Early Head Start, with about half of those children living in the city of Chicago.

Uneven access to early learning continues to be a problem nationally, and Obama’s 2013 proposal to provide universal pre-school access through a federal-state partnership have floundered in Congress.

Burwell’s announcement comes a day after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would double both federal funds and grants for Head Start programs and proposed a tax cut to help parents with the costs of raising children under the age of 3.

On Tuesday in Chicago, Head Start parent Morgan Alexander spoke about the creativity and development she’s seen in her daughter, 3-year-old Felicity Gravesande.

“She’s excited about going to school every day,” Alexander said. “I mean she’s super-excited.”

CARLA K. JOHNSON, Associated Press

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