Even Start Literacy Program Could Lose Funding, Dems Warn

WASHINGTON – A literacy program for low-income families will lose funding on 20 reservations after a federal rating system evaluated the Even Start Family Literacy Program on an irrelevant measure of success, a group of Democrats warned in a May 1 letter.

In the letter, the 62 lawmakers advised Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, chairman of the education-related subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations in the House of Representatives, that a Perfor-mance Assessment Rating Tool review judged the program by the number of participants who achieved general equivalency degrees (similar to high school diplomas).

Under that benchmark, the national Even Start programs received the dreaded “Results Not Demonstrated” PART rating (along with 40 other Department of Education programs).

But the purpose of the Even Start program is to boost adult reading abilities, according to senior staff for the Republican majority in the House.

Given the flawed assumptions of the PART review that led to less funding, lawmakers from the Congressional Native American Caucus are asking for restored funding of $225 million in fiscal year 2007 to the nationwide Even Start program.

PART has been implemented under President George W. Bush as a means of measuring the effectiveness of federal programs. It consists of 30 uniform questions that are not designed around the laws that guide the programs PART measures. In the case of Even Start, the questions simply do not align with the underlying statute.

In addition, a general concern is rising in Congress – even in Republican circles if senior staff are speaking out – that PART results are more effective in improving program administration than in serving as the basis of budget decisions.

Even Start funding sank from $225 million to $99 million in fiscal year 2006. As a result, Even Start centers have closed down nationwide.

In Indian country, officials from 11 centers have learned that their funding will not be renewed, with nine more to be notified by July. Of the 28 Even Start centers previously serving Indian country, only eight will remain operating.

Restored funding will not stop the July closures, but would enable the centers to reopen in 2007.

“Even Start makes the playing field a little more fair for disadvantaged and low-income families, including Native Americans for whom we have promised such opportunities,” said Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., the caucus co-chair.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., added that budget reductions continue to come at the expense of society’s most needy citizens. “Poor and disadvantaged families cannot afford to lose supportive services that help them succeed in their classrooms, fully participate at work and make valuable contributions to their communities,” Miller said.