Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced a proposed rule that would extend the Head Start calendar to a full school day and school year, requiring more collaboration than ever with transportation services and focusing on program improvement rather than redundant requirements.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking hit the Federal Register Tuesday morning shortly after Burwell’s announcement at an Early Head Start center in Chicago. The NPRM is designed to reduce the current number of 1,400 Head Start standards and instead, focus on driving improved program performance. It comes on the heels of renewed calls by the Obama Administration to “provide children with access to high-quality early childhood experiences.”
HHS said research suggests that expanding Head Start to a full school day and school year will result in students being better prepared for kindergarten. It also seeks to raise education standards to reflect current research on brain development, early learning and effective practice, as well as build teacher skills and improve classroom performance through a system of evidence-based, individualized professional development.
For transportation services, the proposal mainly focuses on eliminating unnecessary verbiage. But the bigger picture for transportation, said Elaine Shea, a Head Start grantee specialist in Missoula, Montana, and an STN EXPO presenter, shows a need for increased planning and collaboration with Head Start agencies and school districts, which remains a challenge.
Shea explained for STN that the successful implementation of a full school day and full school year relies upon proper communication with transportation. She said transportation must continue to be a “change agent” to make connections with stakeholders, share knowledge and increase the visibility of Head Start in communities, not to mention continue running routes in a timely and safe manner.
“Too often, partners work in isolation of each other. It usually isn't intentional, but rather, pressing deadlines and work schedules do not always allow time that is needed to meet face-to-face, listen and understand the shared workscope and how best to develop individualized and joint plans to avoid duplication as well as reduce cost,” she added. “No Head Start, Early Head Start or local school district has the leisure of spare funds in today's increasingly tight economy. So, we need to collaborate, meet, get to know and trust one other to work together for children and families.”
The NPRM seeks to consolidate provisions of 1310.12 that require students to be transported in school buses or allowable alternative vehicles equipped with height- and weight-appropriate child restraint systems and reverse beepers and that govern how Head Start agencies are to use funds to purchase the vehicles. The proposal would no longer require agencies to “strategically locate and mark” emergency safety equipment, such as seat belt cutters, charged fire extinguishers and first aid kits, “because we expect programs will ensure that such equipment is readily accessible as needed,” the NPRM stated.
The elimination of “unnecessary and duplicative” rules from 49 CFR 1310, HHS added in a statement, allows Head Start directors to focus on positive outcomes for children and their families rather than spending time and resources on requirements that do little to ensure program quality.
“These proposed standards provide the building blocks for the success of future generations of Head Start kids,” said HHS' Burwell, who attended a Head Start program as a child. “I know firsthand the power Head Start has to instill a lifelong love of learning. By reducing the unnecessary bureaucratic burdens and applying the latest research and best practices in our Head Start programs, we will help more children onto the path of success.”
The public comments period extends through Aug. 18. An HHS spokesman said a final rule is expected next year.