Happy Birthday, Head Start!

Children at their Head Start program in Mississippi.

Today we celebrate Head Start’s 53rd birthday. Since this life-changing program was created in 1965 by Sargent Shriver, it has served more than 33 million low-income children and helped give them a bright future.

For more than 25 years, I have visited Head Start programs all across the nation, from California to Washington, D.C. to Illinois and Oklahoma. Each time I am inspired by the children and families who go to these programs to not only learn, but to become future leaders. I see the joy and curiosity in the children’s smiling faces as they do math problems, read stories and learn how to work together with other children.

That’s the power of Head Start. It transforms lives by giving children living in poverty a chance at the future they deserve.

As Jennifer Garner says in this terrific video, some of those children become doctors, lawyers and scientists. Others, such as Shaquille O’Neal, became professional athletes. Darren Walker became president of the Ford Foundation. Sylvia Matthews Burwell became the United States Secretary of Human Services and is now the President of American University.

None of these people would have been able to take advantage of these opportunities without Head Start. This critical early childhood education program helps children achieve their dreams.

However, Head Start and Early Head Start, which serves parents and children up to three years old, are woefully underfunded. Just 31% of eligible children have access to Head Start. And even fewer have access to Early Head Start.

Thankfully, Republicans and Democrats agree that Head Start works and deserves a more robust investment.

“Programs like [Head Start] are crucial for early child development, and serve an important role in schools across the nation. It is a top priority for Congress to ensure that our educational programs are fully funded, if not more, for our schools, and to reinforce their effectiveness.” – Rep. Tom Cole, R-OK

“As the only former pre-school teacher in the Senate, I feel a personal obligation to stand up for our children. And standing up for our children – particularly our most vulnerable children – means standing up for Head Start.” – Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA

I am grateful to champions like Congressman Cole and Senator Murray for their continued support. I’m also thankful to the activists around the country who helped persuade Congress to increase funding for Head Start and Early Head Start in the spending bill signed by President Trump in March.

This strong bipartisan support in Congress has made a real difference, but we have more work to do to give all children, regardless of their family’s economic background, access to a quality early childhood education.

Let’s ensure these programs can help children thrive for another 53 years and beyond!

Please join me in celebrating Head Start’s birthday by urging Congress to support additional funding for Head Start and Early Head Start.

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Kris Perry is the president of Save the Children Action Network. Formerly the Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund, Kris understands that the future lies in the health and wellbeing of children. She has dedicated her career to bringing resources and support to parents, caregivers, and early learning workforce professionals to ensure children grow up healthy and ready to succeed. 

You can follow Kris on Twitter (@kmpperry).