Head Start Advocate Update: Looking Back and Charging Forward in the Senate

National Head Start Association
4 min readAug 13, 2021

Last week we looked at all the work the House of Representatives has done for Head Start over the past eight months. On the other side of the hill, Head Start has seen tremendous support from the Senate, too. Let’s take a look.

Ceiling of the Hart Senate Office building.

In January, nine new Senate members joined the 117th Congress…

We were proud to welcome two Head Start alumni: Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Sen. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico. While there are and have been many Head Start alumni in the House, Sen. Warnock and Sen. Lujan are the first two Head Start alumni to serve in the Senate!

In February, President Biden’s new nominees took the stand…

The Senate started their process to appoint Xavier Becerra as the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Head Start. During his time in Congress and as an Attorney General of California, Mr. Becerra was a champion for Head Start children and families. In March, the Senate confirmed the new Secretary and he has continued to prove his commitment to supporting our nation’s most vulnerable children and their families.

In March, budget reconciliation in the Senate kicked off…

Following the passage of the House’s COVID relief bill in February, the Senate took on the task of debating more COVID-19 support through the unique process of budget reconciliation. This reconciliation called for $1 billion in additional pandemic relief funds for Head Start and Early Head Start. On March 10th, the Senate passed the American Rescue Plan Act that included the extra $1 billion in Head Start and Early Head Start funding and many more benefits for Head Start families.

In April, Senate HELP Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott (R-VA) reintroduced the Child Care for Working Families Act. This bill seeks to:

  • build upon existing child care infrastructure while also creating a new universal preschool program
  • expand access to and supply of high-quality child care
  • strengthen the workforce by mandating pay parity with elementary school teachers — including $4 billion for Head Start to improve wages for staff
  • add funding for extended duration

In May, it seemed like early childhood education legislation was popping up everywhere. In addition to the Child Care for Working Families Act, here’s what landed on the table:

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) reintroduced the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, which creates a network of locally-run, affordable, and high quality child care programs akin to Head Start.
  • Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) kicked off his Five Freedoms campaign, which includes mass expansion of Head Start.
  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) introduced the Head Start Improvement Act, which would effectively end Head Start as we know it through block granting.

May also marked Head Start’s 56th birthday! Thank you to Senators Casey, Carper, Duckworth, Hassan, and Shaheen for celebrating with us.

In June, as the Senate continued to move through the appropriations process, the Executive Director of the Washington State Association of Head Start, Joel Ryan, submitted testimony advocating for Head Start’s needs. He addressed three long-standing priorities for programs across the country: workforce investment, Quality Improvement Funding for trauma-informed care, and extended duration. He also triple-underlined infrastructure as an important issue to the quality of programs and the health, safety, and success of Head Start.

By July, infrastructure became the topic of discussion…

The Senate had a tough time coming to a bipartisan agreement for the infrastructure bill. The bill, coined as the tentative American Jobs Plan, totaled $1.2 trillion in new funds and included $25 billion for child care. This ambitious bill may allow Congress to address the estimated $4.2 billion need for Head Start to update and renovate facilities.

In August, in a first step towards passing a spending plan, the Senate approved a $3.5 trillion budget resolution this week. While Head Start was not named outright, the resolution directs Congress to craft a bill that could spend $726 billion over 10 years on many of our key priorities: universal Pre-K, child care, school infrastructure, educator training, workforce development, and more. The next step is for the House to come back on August 23 to pass the same instructions and both House and Senate committee staff to begin drafting the details of the proposal.

On the horizon…

NHSA will continue to engage in the budget process. Likewise, we are keeping our eyes trained on the infrastructure bills moving forward, as well as a potential reauthorization.

As summer winds down, we are looking forward to our Fall Leadership Institute in September. This four-day advocacy training in Washington, D.C., is a great opportunity for Head Start advocates to meet with elected leaders and congressional staff on Capitol Hill. Learn more about our Leadership Institute and how you can participate here.



National Head Start Association

NHSA is a nonprofit organization committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in life.