Proposed Head Start Day and Year Expansion Draws Mixed Response

By Christina A. Samuels — September 16, 2015 2 min read
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The public has until late Sept. 17 to submit comments on the proposed revisions to Head Start regulations, but so far, the proposal to expand the Head Start day and year seems to be drawing the most attention.

I read hundreds of the comments that have been submitted online so far about the Head Start proposal, and wrote about some of the issues that those commenters raised in a recent article for Education Week.

Currently, Head Start requires its center-based programs to offer 3.5 hours a day, 128 days per year to enrolled children. The new proposal, which was released in June, would extend that to 6 hours a day and 180 days a year.

That expansion would be in line with the Obama administration’s desire to make full-day, high-quality preschool more widely available to children from low-income families. The expansion would also align with current research that says a longer preschool day and year better prepare children for kindergarten.

However, the expansion depends on Congress agreeing to allocate $1.5 billion more to Head Start than it does now—about $10.1 billion for the program was part of the president’s fiscal 2016 budget. Without more money, expanding the school day and year would mean cutting about 126,000 children and 9,400 teachers.

Many commenters said that their Head Start programs were connected to school districts whose school year is shorter than 180 days. Others said that they did not want to lose student enrollment, or that their parents preferred the shorter day for their young children. “By changing our program to 5 full days, half of our children will be without a classroom and an opportunity to grow,” one commenter wrote.

The response to the day-and-year expansion was not universally negative. “I have seen the significant challenges double-session teachers face in making time for planning, meeting with their classroom team to discuss what is working well/what is not and planning adjustments accordingly,” one commenter wrote.

But the differing views on what has been seen as a centerpiece of the new proposal may present challenges to Head Start officials as they work to incorporate suggestions into the final rule. My article also talks about other issues raised by commenters, including the role of parental engagement, and the elimination of certain Head Start options.

Photo: Teacher Kim Moore works with Janiya Hobby at the Claxton-West Head Start Center, in Knoxville, Tenn, in 2013.—Shawn Poynter for Education Week-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.