Reforming Head Start

What ‘Re-competition’ Means for the Federal Government’s Pre-K Program

As research continues to highlight the benefits of early childhood education, the Obama administration’s reforms to Head Start are shaking up the 45-year-old preschool program for children in poverty. This issue brief explains why some Head Start programs are competing for funding for the first time, how quality teaching is emphasized in future grant awards, and what to watch for in 2013.

The brief, Reforming Head Start: What ‘Re-competition’ Means for the Federal Government’s Pre-K Program, provides a view of re-competition set in the context of Head Start’s history and limitations. Before now, much of this information has not been available for public viewing nor has it existed succinctly in one place for policymakers and the public to digest. The paper explains the inner workings of the new grant-making system – known as ‘re-competition’ -- and discusses Head Start’s role as states and the federal government work to build a higher-quality system of publicly funded early learning programs.

The grant system is a departure from the way Head Start operated in the past, in which a Head Start provider generally did not have to compete for renewed grants or risk losing funding except in extreme circumstances, such as if a provider lost its child care license. Under the new re-competition policies, Head Start grantees are awarded grants for a five-year period, and grantees found to have low-quality programs during that period will have to compete with outside applicants for their next five-year grant.

“If successful, re-competition could make Head Start more effective by making its providers truly accountable for the education, health and family services they provide,” wrote Maggie Severns, the report’s author.

The Office of Head Start says it will announce the first winners of Head Start grants under the new funding system in the spring of 2013.

A PDF of the paper can be downloaded here or from the column to the right.




Maggie Severns