Head Start providers improve quality through new competitions, greater accountability

The Department of Health and Human Services this week is entering the next stage of strengthening quality and accountability in Head Start, beginning negotiations with approximately 160 potential winners of a competition that, for the first time ever, required providers to show they are offering children the best early education services available in their community.  The negotiations with this first group of grantees are the next step in an ongoing process put in place by a new rule implemented by the Obama Administration that – for the first time – require all lower-performing Head Start grantees that fail to meet a new set of rigorous benchmarks to re-compete for continued federal funding.

“This Administration stands firm on improving the quality of services we deliver to our most vulnerable children and families,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  "It is our duty to ensure our nation's federal dollars are only invested in the most effective programs – and that our children receive the best early education possible – in every community."

Under the reforms announced by President Barack Obama in 2011, 125 Head Start grantees who did not meet quality thresholds established by the Office of Head Start were notified in Dec 2011 they had to compete with other potential providers for continued Head Start funding. 

All competitors had to submit proposals detailing how they would achieve Head Start’s goal of delivering high-quality early childhood services to the nation’s most vulnerable infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers.  These proposals were subjected to an extensive evaluation process, including review by a panel of independent early childhood professionals and assessment by Certified Public Accountants to determine a potential grantee’s ability to implement Head Start’s mission and standards in their community. 

Out of the 125 existing providers required to compete for continued Head Start funding, 80 were successful in developing proposals that documented their improvements and plans to provide the highest-quality services and education for low-income children and families in their communities, and these 80 grantees will continue to receive federal funding.  Twenty-five existing providers will be replaced by new programs that developed better plans for delivering Head Start services in their communities, and an additional 14 existing grantees will see their grants split up between new and existing providers.  In the remaining competitions, no applications were found to meet the panel’s high standards:  in these areas, Head Start services will continue while a new competition begins this spring to find a new provider.

Providers that competed for continued federal funding for health and safety issues are subject to annual unannounced monitoring visits to ensure they are living up to the higher health and safety standards they have laid out in their applications.  Failure to do so, or to comply with other federal performance standards, could result in termination of their grant. In addition to the new competitive process, all Head Start grants will now be administered over a five year period. All providers of Head Start services will be subject to strengthened grant terms and conditions implemented by the Obama Administration to ensure that every Head Start child across the country receives consistent, high-quality education and services.

“Moving these grants to a five-year competitive cycle is a key step in making sure all grantees, new and old, are consistently providing the best possible services to vulnerable children across America," said Yvette Sanchez-Fuentes, Director of the Office of Head Start.  "Applicants entering negotiations today have demonstrated a strong plan in how they will serve their communities.  We’ll be closely monitoring each grantee to ensure they follow through on their promises."

The panel's initial selectees are now in negotiations with the Department of Health and Human Services.  Final grantees will be announced by July, once the negotiation process has ended. A full list of agencies currently in negotiations is available at http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/hs/dr/prelim-1st-cohort-awardees.html.

A second group of Head Start grantees was notified in January that they will need to compete for future funding as well.  The competition process for those service areas will open to the public this spring.  HHS will continue to continue to hold competitions on an ongoing basis for grantees who do not meet quality thresholds.

For more information on Head Start, please visit http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs/.

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