The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this week began negotiations with the first group of Head Start providers that must re-compete for continued federal funding, even as automatic federal cuts, known as sequestration, is cutting 5 percent of budgets nationwide.
The agency is working with about 160 potential winners as part of first-time reforms to the Head Start program. The Obama Administration in 2011 implemented a new rule requiring all lower-performing Head Start grantees that fail to meet a new set of rigorous benchmarks to re-compete for funding.
The competition requires providers to show they are offering children the best early education services available in their community through proposals detailing how they would achieve Head Start’s goal of delivering high-quality early childhood services to the most vulnerable infants, toddlers and preschoolers. These services include busing.
In December 2011, the department notified about 125 Head Start grantees that they had to compete because they did not meet quality thresholds. Of those 125 grantees, 80 submitted successful proposals and will continue to receive federal funding. Meanwhile, 25 existing providers will be replaced by new programs that developed better plans for delivering Head Start services in their communities, and another 14 existing grantees will see their grants split up between new and existing providers.
“In the remaining competitions, no applications were found to meet the panel’s high standards,” department officials said in a statement. “In these areas, Head Start services will continue while a new competition begins this spring to find a new provider.”
In addition to the new competitive process, all Head Start grants will now be administered throughout a five-year period, as they will be held accountable to strengthened grant terms and conditions during that time.
“Moving these grants to a five-year competitive cycle is a key step in making sure all grantees, new and old, are consistently providing the best possible services to vulnerable children across America,” said Yvette Sanchez-Fuentes, director of the Officel of Head Start.
Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association, said it’s no surprise that so many Head Start programs competed successfully, but recognized that more work is to be done.
“As the process moves forward, there is still work to be done to ensure that the system correctly identifies the programs that should be recompeted. We look forward to utilizing the experience and wisdom of the entire Head Start community as we work together with the Administration and our friends in Congress to continue refining this important initiative.”
HHS officials said they would continue to hold competitions on an ongoing basis for grantees that do not meet quality thresholds. The final grantees will be announced in July when the negotiation process ends. A full list of agencies currently in negotiations is here.