AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci joined Head Start officials Thursday in voicing his opposition to a Bush administration plan to change the way the early childhood program is funded.

Under Bush’s proposed budget for 2004, states could receive Head Start money as block grants. Since it was launched in 1965, community agencies have run the program with funds sent directly from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Baldacci and a fellow Democrat, House Speaker Patrick Colwell of Gardiner, said block grants will hurt what they described as one of the most successful federal programs.

“We stand as one on this issue because it’s in the children’s best interests,” Baldacci said.

The Bush administration says changes in Head Start will strengthen it. President Bush supports a plan introduced by Republicans to keep Head Start in Health and Human Services rather than moving it to the Education Department.

Critics say the block grant approach will add to the program’s overhead costs, noting that no state has experience overseeing Head Start. The program provides early childhood education, health, nutrition and special services.

Jeanie Mills, co-director of the Maine Head Start Directors Association, said any attempt to alter a program working so well is “alarming.” Head Start serves more than 4,000 Maine children.

U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 2nd District, said thousands of Maine children who are eligible for Head Start are not served because of inadequate funding and that the proposed change would make the problem worse.

Bush’s $350 billion tax cut proposal was also under attack in the state Capitol on Thursday, a day after congressional negotiators trimmed the overall package by about $30 billion.

A coalition called Fair Taxes for All, which includes union, women’s, civil rights and other groups, took issue with Bush’s claim that the tax cuts will revitalize the economy and create 1 million jobs.

In Washington, Maine 1st District U.S. Rep. Tom Allen said the proposed tax cut “will succeed in passing on trillions of dollars in additional debt to future generations.”

AP-ES-05-22-03 1600EDT

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