GOP lawmakers press Sebelius over commitment to Head Start reform

House Republicans are pushing for more details on an effort to reform Head Start, the much-debated preschool program for poor children. 

In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, GOP lawmakers questioned her office's commitment to the reform, which is designed to pull grants from struggling Head Start programs. 

House Republicans have been relentless in targeting federal spending they see as wasteful since claiming a majority in the chamber two years ago. 

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"HHS's continued lack of transparency serves to justify doubts surrounding the department's ability to improve the quality of the Head Start program," Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) wrote to Sebelius Friday. 

Later, Kline and Alexander requested details from HHS on the Head Start programs now recompeting for their grants, and on the grant review process overall. 

The letter was sent under the auspices of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which Kline heads.

The $8 billion Head Start program was created in 1965 as part of President Johnson's Great Society and partially overhauled in 2007 under President George W. Bush. 

As part of that year's Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act, the program raised qualifications for teachers and expanded eligibility for children. 

The law also mandated that some of the roughly 1,600 Head Start programs recompete for their grants with new candidates that promise to be more effective. 

But critics, including Kline and Alexander, charge that HHS has made the process too secretive. 

"The department has refused to release any information, including basic facts and figures, during the implementation of the process, falling far short of this important [transparency] requirement," the congressmen wrote Friday. 

Defenders of the program say the reform could unfairly penalize good Head Start providers.