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Letter to the House Education and Labor Committee on retaining civil rights protections in the Head Start bill

March 02, 2007

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the National Education Association's (NEA) 3.2 million members, we urge you to retain critical civil rights protections as you draft and mark-up legislation to reauthorize the Head Start program. Specifically, we urge you to oppose any amendment to repeal longstanding provisions designed to protect the over 198,000 Head Start teachers and staff and 1,450,000 parent volunteers from employment discrimination based on religion in federally-funded Head Start programs. Actions in committee on this issue may be scored in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 110th Congress. 

NEA recognizes the invaluable contributions of religious organizations participating in Head Start. In fact, many faith-based organizations have been providing Head Start services for decades while abiding by the law's civil rights protections. These fundamental protections were inserted into the law in 1981—in reauthorization legislation signed by President Reagan—and have been included in every reauthorization since then. Clearly, faith-based providers do not need a repeal of 35-year-old civil rights protections to continue to provide Head Start services.

Repeal of the Head Start civil rights provisions would mark the first time Congress has ever acted to repeal existing, statutory antidiscrimination protections. Allowing discrimination based on religion would significantly impede the important goals of Head Start by allowing programs to fire qualified teachers and staff who do not share the religious beliefs of their employer. Most importantly, repealing these protections would send a damaging message to Head Start students, contradicting important lessons about diversity and tolerance. 

Repealing Head Start civil rights protections is divisive, unnecessary, and unconstitutional. We urge you reject any such efforts. 

Sincerely,

Diane Shust, Director of Government Relations

Randall Moody, Manager of Federal Advocacy