Head Start

The Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act was first enacted under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, the centerpiece of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” The program was conceived by Sargent Shriver, a special assistant to President Johnson, and started as a nationwide, eight-week summer program in the summer of 1965 initially serving 561,000 3- to-5 year old children and operating on a budget of $96.4 million. The following year, it grew into a half-day program available during the school year. From the beginning, Head Start was designed as a comprehensive program focusing on education, health, and parental involvement.

Though some administrations have thrown more support behind Head Start than others, the program grew steadily throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. President Nixon moved the program to the newly created Office of Child Development in 1969. Beginning in 1972 Congress mandated that at least 10 percent of national Head Start enrollment serves students with disabilities, a requirement that still exists today. On several occasions, presidents and members of Congress have proposed moving Head Start to a different government agency or turning its funding into block grants given directly to states. President Carter, for example, tried but failed to move Head Start to the U.S. Department of Education when the Department was first created.

Congress’s 2007 reauthorization of Head Start included several reforms to the program, including placing a greater focus on the credentials of Head Start teachers. By 2011, all Head Start lead teachers had to have at least an associate’s degree in early childhood or a related field. By 2013, half of them must have at least a bachelor's degree in early childhood. (If their degree isn't specifically for early childhood, it must be in a related field and they must have experience teaching preschoolers.) In 2014, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, 67 percent of teachers had obtained the required bachelor’s degree.

In addition to eliminating the NRS, Congress’s 2007 reauthorization of Head Start included several reforms to the program, including placing a greater focus on the credentials of Head Start teachers. By 2011, all Head Start lead teachers had to have at least an associate’s degree in early childhood or a related field. By September 30th, 2013, half of them must have at least a bachelor's degree in early childhood. (For those with a degree in related fields, they must also have experience teaching preschoolers.) In 2009, according to the FACES report published in December 2011, 46 percent of teachers had obtained the required bachelor’s degree.

Notes

Excerpted from: Maggie Severns, Reforming Head Start: What ‘Re-competition’ Means for the Federal Government’s Pre-K Program [Washington, DC: New America,  2012].