President Bush is due at a Catonsville Head Start center today to try to inspire a little election-year gratitude with an announcement that he is seeking a major boost in financing for the popular early learning program.
The president's appearance at the Emily Harris Head Start Center is part of a series of budget "teasers" intended to get maximum political benefit from the good news in the spending plan Mr. Bush will offer to Congress next week.
Mr. Bush is expected to announce today that he will ask Congress to add more than $500 million to the $2.2 billion appropriated for Head Start this year. It would be the largest increase he has sought so far for the program, which last year got only a $100 million boost in the Bush budget.
Administration officials said the new money would be enough to fulfill the president's 1988 campaign pledge of fully funding a federal grant program that has been widely recognized for its benefits to poor and disadvantaged children.
Head Start now serves about 621,000 pre-schoolers, mostly 4-year-olds, who the administration says amount to 60 percent of the eligible children. Mr. Bush's new budget would enable the program to be offered to about 80 percent of the eligible 4-year-olds,according to an administration official.
But some Head Start advocates believe the pre-school sessions, which are aimed at both intellectual and emotional development, should be made available to children aged 2 and 3 as well as to 4-year-olds. That would cost perhaps twice as much or more than what Mr. Bush is seeking.
Mr. Bush is also expected to talk about administration efforts to expand the Head Start program to include more emphasis on helping the parents of eligible children through literacy classes and job training.
There are already some such services available for parents of the 68 children attending the Emily Harris center, according to Marianne Anderson, director of the YMCA-Baltimore County Head Start program.