The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services has awarded roughly $290 million to hundreds of Head Start and Early Head Start programs nationwide, to expand the hours of service for enrolled children and increase essential transportation services.
The federal government allocated these funds as a down payment to ensure that nearly all preschool-age children in Head Start attend programs that operate for a full day and full school year.
The additional resources allow programs to choose models that work best for the communities they operate in. Head Start administrators can now work with local stakeholders to decide whether to add days at the end of the year, to shorten the summer gap, to add more hours per day or a combination of all these options.
According to Linda Smith, HHS deputy assistant secretary for Early Childhood Development, mounting evidence presents a link between increased days and hours spent in quality education programs and improvement in school preparation and overall outcomes for children.
Smith pointed to research that showed programs that run fewer hours and days may not have the time to provide the necessary small-group learning, individualized instruction or comprehensive services for educational success. This research also revealed that extended summer breaks can also undermine any gains students make during the program year.
“We are pleased Congress has appropriated these funds for young children served by the Head Start program,” Smith said.
The supplemental funding matches new Head Start standards announced earlier this year that require most Head Start programs nationwide to offer full school day and full school year services by 2021.
Funding to Help Transportation Services
David Stoeger, director of transportation at Wyoming Child and Family Development, said he sees the approximately $290-million investment to extend services to a full day as an opportunity to boost acceptance rates because “a lot of kids want in.”
Wyoming Child and Family Development is a non-profit that provides a full range of services for families with children from birth to five since 1965, the same year the federal Head Start program launched, that provides early childhood education to 800 children in eight counties in eastern Wyoming. Program funding includes Head Start, Early Head Start, TANF preschool and developmental disability services.
Stoeger said the Wyoming Child and Family should be directly impacted by this new sources of funding, with $80,000 being allocated to his transportation department. He currently oversees a fleet of 17 buses, transporting more than 530 students to and from school. Most the buses are least a decade old, and a handful have been on the road for almost 20 years.
For the organization, Stoeger reported that he will use his portion of his funds to purchase one new bus and a few cars. However, he said he has considered buying a used bus, but the search is limited, as Head Start requires school buses to be outfitted with rear air conditioning units, adding that he has found some candidates that fit this necessity that also have low mileage and service years.
As programs expand and driving schedules are tweaked, he added that the new funds will help find the additional drivers necessary to accommodate the adjustments. Recently, due to the decline in the state’s economy, Stoeger said school bus drivers have been hard to come by since people aren’t not pursuing their commercial driver’s license in the first place.
He added that he remains hopeful, though, that with the incoming Trump administration, there should be a reinvigoration in Wyoming’s natural resources that should provide an “upswing that will change perspectives.”
“Children need the Head Start programs in their lives,” Stoeger said. “They learn to love education at a young age.”