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Established in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Head Start program provides federal grants directly to local agencies to provide comprehensive child development services for low-income children and families. Today, Head Start serves more than one million low-income children. Head Start programs aim to promote school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through the provision of educational, health, nutritional, social and other services to enrolled children and families. In 1995, Early Head Start was established as a complementary program to promote healthy parental outcomes for pregnant women, the development of children from birth to age three, and healthy family functioning.
During a time when the achievement gap and low educational achievement continue to plague public education, school readiness has never been more important. Poor children at nine months are already behind their higher income peers in cognitive development; the gap is even wider by 24 months. By kindergarten, it is almost impossible for poor children to catch up. While over one million low-income children were enrolled in Head Start during 2008, that number fell far short of those who were eligible.
Quality, comprehensive child development programs are crucial for the physical, emotional and educational health of all children—especially poor and at-risk children. The Children’s Defense Fund fully supports efforts to ensure that the Head Start and Early Head Start programs meet the goal of promoting school readiness for our nation’s most vulnerable children.