Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Letter to Lynn Woolsey on Head Start

Dear Representative Woolsey:

There's an old adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Head Start, a highly successful educational program which, in the 1970s, has helped several members of my own family--my dyslexic cousins who would have otherwise become juvenile delinquents by failing school, as their mother did--is under threat of dismantlization by the Bush administration. 

When I went to school, there was no such program available and the California education system failed me miserably: my dyslexia went undiagnosed for 30 years. I had to wait until junior college to discover that indeed I wasn't stupid as the California educational system had allowed me to believe. I received an education by sheer determination alone. 

I just completed my MA and my MFA: English/Creative Writing at SFSU, something I could have accomplished in my 20's instead of waiting until I was nearly 50, had there been a Head Start program available when I was in school. Head Start catches some of these problems with early childhood screening programs, with nutrition programs and tutoring programs. 

How can our nation claim to offer equal opportunity (let alone, justice or happiness) for all when we are failing to give all of our poorest kids the basic skills necessary to better themselves--programs that Head Start offers, which has a track record of success in helping kids mired in poverty, our most vulnerable citizens, to succeed:

* Children who participate in Head Start are more likely to graduate from high school;

* Kids who graduate from Head Start commit far fewer juvenile crimes;

* Because children in Head Start require less special education in school and don't break the law as frequently later in life, Head Start saves between two and four federal tax dollars for every dollar invested in the program.

It is patently obvious that Head Start offers much more than just an ounce of prevention to our most vulnerable citizens... Why in the world is the Bush Administration proposing to dismantle Head Start and replace it with inconsistent and untested state programs? This makes no sense and is directly at odds with the values that our country stands for. 

It's shameful enough that our government is giving huge tax breaks to millionaires but failing to provide our poorest kids with the basics, such as Head Start. If anything, Head Start should be fully funded by the federal government with an additional $2 billion/year (that's less than one half of one percent of the Pentagon budget!).

I realize that "ain't" is no longer king's English, and we're no longer the colonies, but a nation--however, if we allow Bush to dismantle federal funding, and replace it with unregulated state funding/ administration, a significant portion of our children won't even be able to spell "ain't," let alone read it, or know why it's no longer in current usage. 

Forget about the subtleties of dangling participles and the delights of other grammatical errors. Ain't that a shame. (Although judging by some of Bush's linguistic gems, he also might have benefitted by attending a Head Start program himself, but I digress...) if I may borrow a phrase uttered by Bush, Sr.: "Read my lips": this proposal is a recipe for unmitigated educational disaster. 

As you may recall, I work in the Bay Area schools as an artist in residence (CPITS/YABA), teaching poetry (you've attended many of my events: especailly the sister city-USSR exchanges), let me say that it's already pretty grim in many of our schools. 

As it is, California's educational system funding is already at the rock "bottomth" percentile in state funding, do you seriously think that a state-administered Head Start program would stand a chance of surviving current budget cuts? 

Look at what is happening to our California Arts Council. Rather than dismantle the highly successful Head Start program, please fight to continue the program and expand its funding to cover all eligible children. An ounce of prevention goes a long way indeed.


Maureen Hurley