Gov. Judy Martz has taken a considerable amount of flack for cheerleading the policies of the Bush administration during her tenure. However, a recent White House-backed bill to “reauthorize” the Head Start program, which serves as the United States’ primary pre-school for underprivileged children, was met with a resounding “No” from the Martz administration.
Since its inception 38 years ago, Head Start has received bipartisan support. Little major debate has surrounded the federal program until recently, when House Republicans, at the encouragement of the White House, narrowly passed a bill (217-216) that would turn administration and funding of Head Start over to state governments in eight pilot states.
“What the [Bush] administration has done…is shift the discussion toward an emphasis on preparing for school. They’ve talked about ‘How well does Head Start get kids ready for entry into the public school system?’” says Scot Anderson, the director of Head Start in Missoula.
Anderson says that shift in emphasis devalues Head Start’s role of helping the “whole child,” i.e., providing nutrition, physical education and social and emotional education, in favor of solely academic programs.
Kris Goss, Gov. Martz’ education advisor, says that the governor is concerned that such projects could “go by the wayside if there was increased focused on academics.” He says that Martz is also concerned as to how a rural (read “poor”) state such as Montana could cope with such a restructuring.
“If this is continued and then goes nationwide, Montana and other rural states that don’t have a pre-kindergarten education infrastructure—it would be very difficult for those states to implement a statewide Head Start program because of budget concerns and other complications,” says Goss.
With these concerns in mind, Martz wrote a letter to the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce in which she politely noted, “This legislation, while well-intentioned, may not have the best interests of rural Head Start programs at heart.”
With 4,500 low-income children in Montana participating in Head Start, and no room in the budget to shoulder what has been a federal burden for almost four decades now, Martz’ letter indicates that she, more than anyone including the White House may have expected, intends to “leave no child behind.”