12 States Get Grants To Forge Links With Head Start Programs

By Deborah L. Cohen — December 05, 1990 9 min read

Washington--Citing the need to coordinate, expand, and bolster the quality of early-childhood-education and child-care programs, the Health and Human Services Department has awarded grants to 12 states to forge “significant partnerships” with the federal Head Start program.

Since 1965, the child-development program for disadvantaged preschoolers, established as a centerpiece of the War on Poverty, has been administered through grants from the federal government directly to local nonprofit agencies or school systems.

Although that funding structure will continue, the “Head Start-State Collaboration Projects” announced last week will enable states to hire state-level administrators to ensure that Head Start is coordinated with other early-childhood programs and has a voice in state planning.

The three-year grants--totaling $1 million, or about $85,000 each, in fiscal 1990 funds--went to Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia. The recipients include governors offices, education departments, and other top-level state agencies.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan said in announcing the grants that the goal is to “improve opportunities for low-income children and their families” by coordinating Head Start with other preschool, welfare-reform, special-education, and child-care efforts.

Another aim of the project is to aid states in offering disadvantaged families access not only to preschool, but also to the range of health, social, and parent-support services mandated under Head Start--and to sustain that support when children enter school.

Sharon L. Kagan, associate director of the Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University and an expert in collaboration issues, called the project “one of the most promising enterprises Head Start has undertaken in a long time.”

The effort, she added, has “implications that transcend Head Start.’' It offers the potential to “forge collaborative links across the entire early-childhood community,” she said.

State and federal officials involved in the initiative also emphasized its potential for drawing together complementary services provided by different agencies.

“We hope to be able to pull the various programs together so that to the person who receives services, it looks like one unified system,” said Judy M. Miller, assistant superintendent for student services and early-childhood education for the Oregon education department, one of five state education departments to receive a collaboration grant.

“The focus of our grant is on the entire family and not just the needs of the preschooler,” said Nicola C. Kobritz, director of the division of community services for the Maine governor’s office, which is administering that state’s award.

“The concept is to ensure that programs serving at-risk families make a concerted effort to serve all the needs of the family in the best possible way,” explained Clennie Murphy, associate commissioner of the federal Head Start Bureau, which is part of the Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Children, Youth, and Families.

Mr. Murphy described the effort as the first in a series of federal initiatives to build stronger ties between Head Start and programs that serve similar constituencies.

He cited, for example, efforts by his agency to work with the Housing and Urban Development Department to open Head Start centers in public-housing units, as well as moves to offer full-day Head Start and child-care programs for parents enrolled in education and training programs mandated by the federal welfare-reform law.

In addition, h.h.s. and the Education Department were scheduled to hold a conference this week to explore ways to link Head Start with Chapter 1 compensatory education and other public-school programs.

Secretary Sullivan last week also announced the award of more than $2 million for 12 “Head Start Family Service Center Demonstration Projects” drawing on Head Start and public and private community groups to address substance abuse, illiteracy, joblessness, and other is4sues impeding low-income families from becoming self-sufficient.

In announcing the collaboration-grant competition last June, hhs cited a convergence of factors underscoring the need to coordinate federal and state aid aimed at disadvantaged preschoolers.

The announcement noted that an increasing number of states have been adding funds to expand Head Start, or funding state preschool programs with similar goals, “in response to empirical evidence that such programs represent an important investment in the future.”

H.h.s. also highlighted the need for interagency collaboration to implement the federal law extending special-education services to preschoolers and to provide full-daychild care for the growing number of mothers moving into employment and training programs under the 1988 Family Support Act, the welfare-reform law.

Mr. Murphy noted that money from the collaboration grants could be used to coordinate part-day Head Start programs with other programs in order to provide full-day child care and help states make best use of funds to train staff members and offer technical aid to local programs.

The grants could also ease “regulatory barriers that prevent the best use of funds,” said Don Bolce, information-services director for the National Head Start Association.

Grant recipients also noted last week that the enactment this year of a new federal child-care block grant and of legislation expanding Head Start heightens the need to identify gaps in services and reduce duplication of effort and competition between programs.

The block grant sets aside at least $140 million for early-childhood education and before- and after-school child care. The Head Start reauthorization bill, which sets a landmark goal of reaching all eligible children, authorizes incremental increases that would boost funding from $1.4 billion in 1990 to $7.7 billion in 1994.

“This is exactly the right time to have better state-level coordination,” said Linda Sawyers, director of Virginia’s Council on Child Day Care and Early-Childhood Programs, another collaboration-grant recipient.

As early-childhood programs become more available, the grant announcement stated, policymakers need to ensure that preschoolers’ gains “are not lost in making the transition” to kindergarten and elementary school.

That goal is also reflected in a new Head Start Transition Project, funded under the reauthorization measure, that offers grants to help states sustain Head Start approaches through elementary school.

“It’s all part of a major emphasis in Head Start to improve the likelihood that children who leave Head Start will maintain the gains they’ve achieved,” said Harriet Egertson, administrator of the office of child development of the Nebraska education department, which also received a collaboration grant.

Besides helping states serve more children and offer more comprehensive services, Ms. Egertson said, the new grants have the potential to promote “more developmental, family-oriented” approaches in the primary grades.

By easing the transition from Head Start to school and promoting approaches geared to children’s levels of development, she said, the Nebraska grant will help “support the state’s reform efforts in the primary grades.”

No Longer a ‘Stepchild’

Many states in recent years have launched their own pilot preschool programs or adopted statewide mandates for early-childhood education. Some have modeled their efforts after Head Start, and at least 13 have opted to channel state funds into Head Start instead of creating a separate program, according to Mr. Murphy.

The h.h.s. collaboration-grant announcement also noted that many states already coordinate some services with Head Start, and that others have “complex and sophisticated collaborative structures.” The goal of the grants, it said, is to advance such efforts, regardless of how states now deliver or integrate services.

Maine, for example, which put $2.5 million into Head Start this year, will use the grant to strengthen its system of statewide Head Start centers, with the goal of “insuring that Head Start families are on a track toward self-sufficiency,” Ms. Kobritz said.

Kentucky, meanwhile, will use its grant to help ensure that a new $18-million statewide preschool program for at-risk 4-year-olds passed this year as part of a sweeping school-reform package does not compete with Head Start.

The Kentucky education department and the regional Head Start office in Atlanta have signed an interagency agreement to work together and maintain high program standards, according to Betty E. Steffy, deputy superintendent of instruction for the state education department.

Several grantees also said they hoped the project would help them extend Head Start or similar services to pockets of children now unserved, especially in rural areas.

Although Head Start serves nearly half a million children in more than 2,000 communities each year, the lack of a state-level presence has made collaboration difficult.

“People may want to coordinate with Head Start, but they are not sure who to talk to, or nobody thinks to make sure Head Start is at the table,” Mr. Bolce of the National Head Start Association said.

While state training offices once funded by Head Start played a coordinating role, he said, “that function was lost” when they were consolidated into regional offices.

Because Head Start’s federal-to-local funding bypasses the states, observed Ms. Kobritz, Head Start is often viewed as “a stepchild.”

“That’s all going to change,” the Maine official predicted.

“This is our opportunity to really bring Head Start in at the state level and give it an effective voice for state policymaking,” added Ms. Sawyers of Virginia.

While supportive of the collaboration grants, the National Head Start Association “would have preferred a different mechanism,” Mr. Bolce said, one giving state Head Start associations primary oversight of their states’ projects. The national organization, he noted, has been bringing state-association presidents together for several months to discuss coordination under a Ford Foundation grant.

But Mr. Murphy of the federal Head Start Bureau argued that placing the oversight function in governors’ offices or cabinet agencies will give administrators hired for the job “direct access to the governor to make this coordination work.”

The Health and Human Services Department has sought input from the National Head Start Association, and most state grantees have outlined plans to work with the state associations, Mr. Bolce noted.

“If these projects do indeed increase Head Start’s coordination with other programs, and if Head Start is represented in the planning process, that will be very good,” he said.

He cautioned, however, that steps must be taken to ensure that states facing severe fiscal limits do not view the chance to coordinate Head Start with other resources “as a mechanism to replace their state shortfalls with Head Start funds.”

“That’s not the intent,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the December 05, 1990 edition of Education Week as 12 States Get Grants To Forge Links With Head Start Programs