Federal

Head Start Shake-Up Generates Few New Providers

By Christina A. Samuels — August 01, 2013 5 min read
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The first competition for federal funds in Head Start’s history was a sea change for the more than 120 grant recipients deemed low-performing that were asked to go through the process—but it didn’t result in many new organizations entering the program.

Only eight of the 153 agencies to come out of the recently completed competition with funding will be new to providing Head Start services this year. Many of the grantees are organizations that had served as “delegates” to larger Head Start programs, meaning they provided early education services, but did not directly control their own funding.

That the Head Start shake-up has yet to result in many brand-new providers does not negate the worthiness of the competition process, which is part of other major changes in the federal program aimed at making centers more accountable for child outcomes, said a spokesman for the program.

“All of the selected awardees successfully demonstrated their ability to raise the quality of Head Start services,” said Ted Froats, a spokesman with the Administration for Children and Families, the division of the Department of Health and Human Resources that oversees Head Start.

Making the Cut

As part of Head Start reforms announced by President Barack Obama in 2011, 125 grantees that failed to meet quality benchmarks were required to reapply for federal funds. As a result, some large programs were split among several providers, leading to 153 winners at the end of the process.

TOTAL GRANTEES NATIONWIDE:
1,600

HEAD START FUNDING, INCLUDING SEQUESTER CUTS:
$7.57 billion for fiscal 2013

CHILDREN AND PREGNANT WOMEN SERVED:
1.1 million in fiscal 2012 (most recent year for which complete figures are available)

TOTAL NEW GRANTEES AFTER ROUND 1 COMPETITION:

  • St. Anne’s Maternity Home, Los Angeles
  • Calvert County Public Schools, Prince Frederick, Md.
  • St. Mary’s County Public Schools, Leonardtown, Md.
  • Genesee County Intermediate School District, Flint, Mich.
  • Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency, Kalamazoo, Mich.
  • Hudson Guild, New York City
  • YMCA of Central Ohio, Columbus, Ohio
  • South San Antonio Independent School District, San Antonio

Note: Numbers are rounded.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Even though the competition produced little in the way of new faces among awardees, a Head Start shake-up was needed and overdue, said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in Washington, and the co-director of its Center on Children and Families. He served as a member of an administration advisory committee on re-designation of Head Start grantees.

“The biggest flaw is that in order for the strategy to work, you’ve got to have good competition at the local level,” and so far, that seems to be lacking, he said. But Head Start providers, even those that do not need to compete for funds, are now focused on improving their quality, he said. “This is still worth doing, because Head Start wasn’t providing the results it could have.”

First Wave

Head Start and Early Head Start, a separate program launched in 1994 to serve pregnant women and toddlers, served about a million children and pregnant women in fiscal 2012, at a cost of about $7.97 billion. Automatic federal budget cuts under what’s known as sequestration will force some centers to reduce their enrollment.

During Head Start’s 48-year history, grantees were allowed to hold on to the money indefinitely, unless they committed a serious violation. But, facing concerns that the programs were not adequately preparing young children for kindergarten, Congress required in 2007 that those not meeting a set of quality benchmarks would be required to compete for continued funding against other interested organizations in their communities. The rules for competition were announced by the Obama administration in 2011. A second competition is underway, and all grantees, even those that are not required to compete for continued funding, will be on a five-year funding cycle.

One of the new grant recipients is the Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency, which provides support to nine school systems in Michigan, the largest of which is the 12,000-student Kalamazoo district. The region had been served by a county community services organization.

“Over the years, we’ve seen the rising standards for kindergarten,” said David Campbell, the superintendent of the regional service agency. Also, he said that statewide, there’s been a move toward having the regional service agencies, with their exclusive focus on education issues, take a larger role in providing Head Start services. The agency will serve 594 4-year-olds, with part of the money coming from a newly expanded funding stream from the state.

San Antonio represents an example of one area where delegate agencies stepped up to receive money directly from the federal government. Instead of one agency overseeing Head Start citywide and in surrounding Bexar County, there are now six. They include Family Service Association of San Antonio, which has been providing Head Start services to about 1,600 children.

Localized Control

That organization decided to seek direct funding because “you have more control of the programming,” said Todd R. Greaves, the director of early-childhood and Head Start services. “When a program is not so large, you have a better understanding of what your community needs.” And though they receive funding separately, Mr. Greaves said that the six agencies, which will serve about 6,800 children, plan to meet regularly to discuss common needs.

Hudson Guild, a community organization serving the Chelsea neighborhood in New York City and Manhattan’s West Side, is counted as a new provider of Head Start services, even though it previously had provided early-childhood services as a delegate agency of the city’s children’s services administration. The city had cut funding to Hudson Guild, saying the community it served was too affluent. Ken Jockers, the executive director of Hudson Guild, said that housing for the working poor in the neighborhood is right next to luxury buildings.

That funding cut prompted the organization to apply for a grant, he said. The program now plans to expand to add 142 more children, for a total of 320 paid for through Head Start and city money. “For us, what drove the decision was the need to provide care for low-income children who would not have access in this area,” Mr. Jockers said.

But some grantees say the touted benefits of Head Start competition have yet to be seen.

Keesha Woods, the director of the Head Start program at the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), is a so-called “supergrantee” that has seen its $212 million in federal funding shrink to $115 million, both through the competition process and cuts related to sequestration. The number of children served through the county office’s delegate agencies will shrink from about 22,000 to about 11,500. Former delegates will receive direct funding from the federal government, but the transfer process will be complex and take about a year, she said.

“I don’t think there’s any way to say yet that breaking up LACOE as a grantee will be more effective,” Ms. Woods said. “I know it’s going to increase bureaucracy.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 07, 2013 edition of Education Week as Head Start Shake-Up Yields Little Turnover

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