Alaska Legislators open doors for Head Start parents, staff

Posted: Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Head Start parents and staff members visited local legislators in Juneau in February. The Kenai Peninsula, villages as far north as Nome and as far south as Ketchikan and representatives of a variety of Head Start organizations met with their Senate and House representatives. The purpose of the meetings was to encourage support from legislators for Head Start programs statewide.

The two most pressing issues on the Alaska Head Start Associa-tion's list were approval by the Alaska House of Representatives and Alaska Senate of $500,000 in state funds for Head Start in Alaska. These state funds would allow Head Start to request $2.5 million in federal funding.

Another concern of the Alaska and the national associations is President George W. Bush's proposal to move Head Start programs nationally from the U.S. Depart-ment of Health and Human Ser-vices to the U.S. Department of Education in 2003.

The associations' concern is that Bush's proposal would cause children and parents to lose social and health services that Head Start programs presently offer to low-income parents.

Ron Herndon, president of the National Head Start Association, was the keynote speaker at the Juneau meeting of the Alaska Head start Association. He said the U.S. Department of Education's focus is on education alone and not the medical and family needs of Head Start families. At present, Head Start is allowed and encouraged to help parents with family problems ranging from Fetal Alcohol Effect to domestic violence and medical exams.

"If we only use one approach, it would be suicidal," said Herndon. "Education concentrates on education."

Quality education combined with quality referrals and assistance meets the needs of the whole family, not just a preschool education, and is what Head Start programs currently offer.

A quality education should be accessible and affordable for every family, was the message Gov. Tony Knowles and Commissioner of Education and Early Development Shirley Holloway delivered to Head Start representatives and parents.

Holloway was a guest speaker at the Alaska Head Start Association meeting and spoke following Herndon.

"The notion is that every family should have access to quality preschool," Holloway said. "Nobody should be left behind."

According to Herndon, this is not the first time a president has tried to move Head Start programs to the Department of Education, but active political involvement by Head Start parents nationwide has kept it where it is today.

"Head Start is around now because we fought for it," he said.

"The fight is continual. Let our congressional representatives know this (proposed change) does not make sense."

Herndon has been actively involved in Head Start since 1975. He spoke about visiting an Alaska village and the Head Start children there.

"We want to make sure that the children's cultures are respected. We want to make sure the children's traditions are respected," he said. "This represents the best of Head Start to me."

Head Start programs are funded by various state and federal grants. Some of these grants are renewable and must be reapplied for annually. The state of Alaska's $500,000 matching grant is one of theses annual grants.

The Alaska Head Start Association has been meeting in Juneau for several years and plans to continue encouraging the state's approval of this much needed appropriation.

Public education and information is the key, said Herndon. Wide use of the media and other public resources are essential to reaching the public and the state and congressional representatives.

"It's a poor frog that can't brag about its own pond," Herndon said, adding that's his father's favorite saying.

Herndon and Holloway said more effort to communicate is needed on the behalf of Head Start programs around the state.

"Communication doesn't just happen," said Holloway. "You have to plan."

Herndon agreed.

"We have to get better with sharing information with each other and sharing information with parents, find some way to educate parents about the issues" he said. "Parents have the most to gain and lose."

Cecelia Keyes is the mother of a child attending Sterling Head Start and is the Southcentral Alaska regional representative on Rural CAP's Child Development Policy Council. The council works alongside Rural CAP's board of directors to oversee Rural CAP's Head Start programs for children. Keyes recently was elected as an alternate parent representative for Region 10 on Alaska's Head Start Associa-tion's board.

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