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Clinton Signs Bill on Head Start to Push Quality Over Quantity

October 28, 1998| From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Clinton signed legislation Tuesday directing that a greater portion of federal Head Start money be used to improve quality in the popular preschool program rather than to expand its enrollment.

The law also creates a five-year test program allowing about 50,000 low-income families to save for a first home, college, or business start-up, with each dollar they save matched by the federal government. The so-called individual development accounts come with a $125-million price tag.

Clinton signed the bill in a closed-door afternoon ceremony in the Oval Office.

The law directs that 60% of new money appropriated to Head Start will go to improving quality in the program that prepares children from low-income families to start school.

Previous rules directed 75% of any new Head Start money toward adding more children. About 800,000 children now receive benefits from the preschool program, which is newly authorized for $35 billion over five years.

The act also authorizes about $2 billion a year for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, which escaped the aim of Republican budget-cutters because of support from a coalition of Democrats and Republicans from Northeast and Midwest states where winter heating can be a serious problem for the poor. The program provides aid to an estimated 4.3 million families.

Later Tuesday, Clinton enacted without fanfare these other measures:

* The Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, giving the president a range of options, from public condemnation to a ban on foreign aid, to punish a country that systematically violates religious rights.

* Amendments to the 1968 crime bill authorizing a grant program that encourages elementary and secondary schools to team up with local police departments on training students in crime prevention and peaceful conflict resolution.

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