Head Start

The federal Head Start program is a comprehensive early learning program for preschool-aged children of families in poverty, designed to meet children’s emotional, social, health, nutritional, and psychological needs. Today the program serves more than 929,000 children, including 813,000 between the ages of 3 and 5. Reauthorized by Congress in 2007 through the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act and run by the Office of Head Start in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, Head Start is the federal government’s only pre-K program.

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Head Start programs are run by organizations, local government agencies, or school districts that receive five-year renewable grants from the federal government. About 10 percent of grants go to school districts that administer Head Start programs. In 2014, 1,622 organizations nationwide—including school districts, local government agencies, non-profit and for-profit organizations—received Head Start grants.

Eligibility and Funding

Head Start is designed to serve children in families in poverty. The median income of Head Start families is $22,714 a year, according to a 2011 report from Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES).


In 2007, a new reform to the program required that low-performing Head Start organizations compete for renewal of their grants against other organizations in their geographic area that want to operate Head Start centers.