Two years ago the Head Start battle focused on effectiveness: Were low income kids truly better prepared for starting school because they had participated in the program? No solid answers emerged, but like so many other Beltway debates, the substance issues abate once the funding crisis is passed.
Now Head Start is the focus of yet another brouhaha. Legislation attached to H.R.2123 by Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) ensures faith-based organizations receiving federal Head Start early childhood program dollars are not forced to surrender their religious identities if they want to be Head Start providers. In other words, churches could still provide Head Start programming without having to throw a tablecloth from the fellowship hall over any religious symbols in the building and fear prosecution if they hired teachers and recruited volunteers from among church members.
Perhaps more time in Washington than in home districts keeps legislators from either party too disconnected from the practical shortsightedness of policy. Muskegon, Michigan community church-based Head Starts provide more volunteers and free family support services than school-based Head Starts. Subsidiarity–inherent value of neighbors helping neighbors–would explain that.
Our Washington policy makers should ponder if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that supports faith-based organizations taking religion into account with hiring is discrimination or, in fact, civil rights exercised reasonably. We decry Columbine and the value-neutral education that communicates anything is ok. Yet when there is an opportunity for people of faith to interact with, nurture, and support challenged young families as their contribution to civil society, the Discrimination Police claim foul.