A second wave of reforms for the $8 billion Head Start program (CFDA Number: 93.600) will streamline administration and make sure it is weeding out underperforming providers and rewarding good ones, the head of the Health and Human Services Dept. testified.
HHS Secy. Sylvia Burwell told lawmakers at a recent House Education Committee hearing that the department is seeking $1.5 for the improvements. They are the first comprehensive revision of the Head Start Performance Standards since they were originally published in 1975. Head Start performance standards are the foundation for Head Start’s mission to deliver comprehensive, high-quality individualized services to support the school readiness and healthy development of children from low-income families, Burwell said.
“The proposal will ensure that all Head Start programs provide services for a full school-day and a full-school-year and increase the number of infants and toddlers served in high-quality early learning programs,” Burwell said. “It will also ensure that program funding keeps pace with inflation and that the program can restore enrollment back to the 2014 level.”
The proposed rule sets an expectation that all programs operate for a full school day and full school year; raises education standards to reflect current research on brain development, early learning, and effective practice; and builds teacher skills and improves classroom performance through a system of evidence-based, individualized professional development.
The new proposal that programs serve Head Start preschoolers for a full school day and a full school year is based on research and evidence that shows that students who spend more time in high quality early learning programs learn more and better prepared for kindergarten.
These costs apply specifically to the approximately 2,815 grantees and delegates currently providing Head Start and/or Early Head Start services. The streamlining will save about $105 million, leaving a final price tag of about $1 billion. The additional costs are driven by a variety of factors, including a longer instruction day, more home visits and a longer program year.
For example, the majority of Head Start programs operate with a four-month summer break. ACF officials believe that undermines the progress Head Start children make during the year and lessens the overall impact of the program.
The new proposed minimums would reduce the allowable summer break to three months and should, therefore, decrease summer learning loss of Head Start children, officials said.
The longer program year, by itself, would cost about a half-billion-dollars, officials said.
The administration has asked for an additional $1.5 billion for this project.
Lawmakers were cool to the increased funding levels.
“Some of the department’s proposed changes will help improve the program; however, the sheer scope and cost of the rulemaking raises concerns and has led to some uncertainty among providers who serve these vulnerable children,” Education Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) said. “Strengthening the law is a better approach than transforming a program through regulatory fiat, and we urge the administration to join us in that effort.”
If Congress does not approve the budget increase, Head Start funding would be cut to local programs, resulting in a reduction of 9,432 teachers’ jobs next year. ACF officials plan to implement the changes whether they are funded by Congress or not.
The proposed rules are a follow-up to a process ACF started in the fall of 2011, called the Head Start Designation Renewal System (DRS). It was designed to identify which Head Start and Early Head Start grantees are providing high quality, comprehensive services and which ones are not.
Those failing a seven-point test get their funding pulled and must re-compete against other providers.