Today, the Office of Head Start announced the results of the first cohorts of providers required to compete for Head Start funding. The selected awardees will negotiate specifics with the program office regarding the size of their program, the number of children to be served, and budget among other important operational issues. We expect those negotiations to be complete by July 2013.
As President Barack Obama emphasized in his State of the Union speech, early childhood development is essential to building ladders of opportunity into the middle class. As part of that vision, the administration and the Office of Head Start have engaged in the most comprehensive reform in the history of the Head Start program to ensure delivery of the high-quality services to infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers from families striving to enter the middle class.
Under new regulations for reform announced by President Obama in November 2011, grantees who do not meet quality thresholds established by the Department of Health and Human Services have to compete for their continued funding with other potential providers from the community.
Requiring Head Start grantees who are not meeting quality benchmarks to compete for funding will improve the quality of the program in several ways.
First, Head Start programs have the opportunity to meet those quality standards in order to continue serving the community.
Second, a grantee that is required to compete has the opportunity and incentive to step back, assess the program, and develop a plan for improvement.
And, finally, it means when there is another organization that is more capable than the current grantee of delivering high-quality early education, that organization will get the federal funding.
That’s what this approach is all about: making sure that the young children of families working to make their way into the middle class have access to the first-rate early education programs that will prepare them for kindergarten with the academic and social skills they need to succeed in school and beyond.
But let me point out — competition is not enough. That’s why this broad reform also includes guaranteeing that teachers are trained in the most effective teaching strategies and strengthening the connections between Head Start and the schools those children will enter.
In addition, all Head Start providers will also be moved onto five-year grant cycles, instead of automatic annual renewal of funding.
George Sheldon is the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Prior to joining ACF, George Sheldon served as the Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).