Special Report

Ohio Builds on Head Start Model

By Jessica L. Sandham — January 10, 2002 1 min read

More than a decade has passed since Ohio bolstered its involvement in Head Start by adding $4 million in state money to the federal dollars spent on the comprehensive preschool program for poor children.

Since that time, Buckeye State officials have fostered an enviable state-federal Head Start partnership that reaches 57,000 children, a number that encompasses nearly all eligible 3- and 4-year-olds in the state, advocates for early-childhood education say.

A total of 21 states and the District of Columbia put money directly into the Head Start program in 2000, but none more so than Ohio, which pumped some $100 million into the program last year alone.

‘Maximizing the Use of Dollars’

For the past several years, Ohio has stretched its state and federal Head Start dollars through a program that encourages collaboration between child-care centers and Head Start providers.

Under those partnerships, centers receiving federal funding that helps cover full-day child-care expenses for poor families--those earning within 185 percent of the federal poverty level--can also receive Head Start aid for children whose families are at or below 100 percent of the poverty level.

Currently, about 25 percent of Ohio’s Head Start pupils are served through such collaborative efforts.

The child-care centers can then use the Head Start resources to provide higher salaries and more training for staff members--both critical aspects of high-quality child-care programs.

The centers, in turn, have to meet Head Start requirements for providing such services as health screenings and ensuring that parents are involved in the program.

As a result, advocates say, many children who would otherwise be ineligible for Head Start benefit because the program’s comprehensive services are folded into existing child-care centers.

In addition, by effectively making Head Start a full-day program for some students, Ohio is better equipped to serve the needs of working families still struggling to make ends meet.

That’s a crucial helping hand, given the limits on public assistance under the 1996 federal welfare law, says Mary Lou Rush, the interim director of early-childhood education for the state education department.

“It’s a way of shoring up the quality of child care while maximizing the use of dollars,” Rush says. “We’re trying to define Head Start more as a service than a place.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2002 edition of Education Week