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). To be eligible to enroll their children in Head Start, families must have incomes at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level ($23,550 for a family of four in 2013) or meet other criteria, such as being foster parents or having children with special needs. In some cases, families at 130 percent of the poverty level may be eligible to participate if spots remain in their local programs after all interested families at 100 percent of poverty have registered. Three-quarters of Head Start children live with a parent who is working full-time, according to the FACES survey.

Funding for Head Start has grown modestly over the past several years, spurred in part by additional funds provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In fiscal years 2011 and 2012, Congress approved funding to support the expanded levels of enrollment made possible by the ARRA. In fiscal year 2014, Congress approved $6.41 billion for Head Start, which equated to $7,886 per pupil. Approximately 813,313 children enrolled in Head Start programs in 2014, up from 796,953 post-sequester in 2013.

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