Health and Human Services Dept. efforts to improve the delivery of Head Start services by forcing underperforming providers to enter into open competitions has largely failed to attract novice providers into the mix, according to a new government report.
The Head Start program is the largest Federal investment in early childhood education and providers are funded via a 60-month grant, which can be renewed.
Historically, Head Start grants were indefinite in term, and grantees remained in the program unless their grants were terminated for cause. The Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 amended the Head Start Act to establish five-year terms for Head Start grants.
In 2012, HHS’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF) launched the Designation Renewal System (DRS) which determines the grantees not providing a high-quality and comprehensive Head Start program. They have to recomplete or participate in open competition for funding renewal. The DRS uses seven “trigger conditions” to assess a subset of grantees each year and determine which grantees will be required to recompete.
OIG found that one-third of grantees were required under the DRS to recompete for funding renewal. Grantees’ DRS determinations were not linked to the number of Head Start enrollees they served, the types of areas (i.e., rural or urban) where their centers were located, the report said.
Of grantees required to recompete, approximately three-quarters had their grants renewed for an additional five-year term. More than half of these grantees were the sole applicants for their respective grants. Overall, 92% of Head Start grantees had their grants renewed.
Of the 115 grantees required to recomplete, 85 (74%) were ultimately renewed for an additional five-year grant term, while 27 grantees (23%) were not renewed. Grantees that were not renewed included 16 that applied but were not selected; five that did not apply or that declined an award; four that relinquished their grants; and two that were terminated by ACF. An additional three grantees were not renewed for a five-year term but were asked to temporarily continue services while ACF reposted the grant announcement.
When grants were recompeted, there were typically few applicants. Although the number of applicants for recompeted grants ranged from 0 to 13, the average posting drew 2 applicants. Of the 85 grantees that were renewed after their grants were recompeted, 54 (64%) were the sole applicants for their respective grants, meaning that they faced no competition.
More than half of grantees who recompeted and won renewal were the sole applicants for their respective grants, requiring ACF to either reselect the incumbent grantee or appoint a temporary grantee to avoid a disruption of Head Start services.
In general, if ACF chooses not to renew a grant for which the incumbent grantee was the sole applicant, it has limited options for ensuring the continuity of Head Start services, OIG said.
When ACF began implementing recompetition, critics raised concerns about whether the DRS could accurately determine which grantees were of lower quality and should therefore recompete, OIG said. OIG found that DRS determinations regarding which grantees were required to recompete were often inconsistent with other ACF performance data, the report said.
Few grantees with lower performance on selected measures than their peers left the Head Start program through the DRS and recompetition processes, OIG said. This was in part because recompeted grants typically had few applicants; in many recompetitions, the incumbent grantee was the sole applicant, OIG said.
Recompetition resulted in little grant turnover: of the 361 grantees studied, 246 were designated under the DRS for automatic, noncompetitive renewal, and an additional 85 recompeted and won renewal. Overall, 92% of Head Start grantees studied retained their grants.
In response to the report, ACF said it would monitor the grantees more closely.
Info: http://goo.gl/DlswBy (report).