Head Start Bill Reopens Job Bias Battle In House

Bush administration allies in Congress have renewed an effort to alter Head Start to permit employment discrimination in the operation of the popular pre-school program.

In March, the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor considered a bill reauthorizing Head Start, which provides education and health benefits to disadvantaged pre-school students. During the hearing, Rep. Luis Fortu\xf1o (R-Puerto Rico) offered an amendment to repeal a longstanding provision that prohibits participating religious organizations from discriminating on the basis of religion when staffing positions.

The amendment, which failed in the committee March 14 on a party-line vote, still could be brought up during floor debate.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State had urged committee members to defeat any attempt to alter Head Start. In a March 7 letter to the committee, Americans United called on members to "continue the bipartisan goal of reauthorizing our nation’s Head Start programs and reject any attempts to roll back civil rights protections long afforded to Head Start teachers and staff."

The organization also worked within the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination to oppose the efforts to alter Head Start. The Coalition includes groups such as the PTA, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Education Association, the NAACP and an array of progressive religious groups.

The Bush administration and its allies in Congress have long pushed for adding "faith-based" provisions to federally funded social service programs.