Mississippi Head Start Faces Tough Challenges

President Bush wants to move the federally funded Head Start from the Department of Health and Human Services to the jurisdiction of each state's education department.

Those who work in Head Start say it offers so much more than teaching kids their ABCs. They say Head Start brings nearly 27,000 Mississippi children and their families together through different programs.

Monique Darby has a four year old daughter enrolled in the program.

"They bring the whole family involved in it. And for them to put it under the Department of Education, it would drop a whole lot of things for the family. It also works with the parents one on one with workshops, counseling. They have programs to help the parents with GED's getting' back into school, job programs," Darby says.

Mississippi's Head Start President says he's afraid moving the program from federal to state jurisdiction could jeopardize those services.

"Schools are focused on education, and they do a good job of education. Head Start is focused on the total child - education, health services, special services, parent involvement, social services," says Alvern Moore.

Federal dollars are the major money source for Head Start. The state gets about $159 million a year. Moore says the state education department can't run Head Start.

"To move to the Department of Education, they have no experience in this. It takes years to get familiar with how you do it and a lot's gonna get lost. It's gonna get tied up in politics."

Mississippi's Deputy Education Superintendent says Moore does an excellent job running the program, and Dr. John Jourdan says he can understand why Moore is concerned about Head Start's future.

Jourdan says the state is not advocating taking over Head Start, but if the decision is made to do so, he says his department can handle it.