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The Head Start Recompetition Process is Underway

Published:  April 20, 2012

The long and much-anticipated process of redistributing federal grant monies away from low-quality Head Start and Early Head Start providers is now underway. Yesterday the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) posted funding opportunities online for city agencies and school districts to compete with their existing area Head Start and Early Head Start providers for grants.

The new grant-making process, known as recompetition, is designed to weed out poorly performing Head Start programs. Recompetition will take place in two rounds this spring in a total of 197  geographical regions, including New York City and Los Angeles. (The first round began yesterday and a second round of funding opportunity announcements for the remaining 100 regions will be posted in May.) Seven indicators of low quality, which we listed in a previous post, can trigger the recompetition process for a Head Start/Early Head Start provider. In each area open to recompetition, one or more local Head Start and/or Early Head Start providers has been flagged to compete for funds.

In a recompetition area such as New York City, where the city’s Administration for Children’s Services currently serves more than 18,000 Head Start children and receives nearly $200 million in federal grant money, new grants could be awarded to anywhere between one and 50 new Head Start providers. A grantee can be awarded funds for both Head Start and Early Head Start, or only one of the programs.

“We are committed to funding only those organizations that can provide the highest-quality services to our children and families,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelious in a press release. Before HHS created the recompetition process, Head Start and Early Head Start grantees often continued to receive funding for years, even if their programs were found to be low quality during federal audits. Many Head Start supporters see the new policy as an important step in improving the nation’s largest federally funded preschool program.

Some Head Start providers and critics, however, say recompetition will be disruptive for children and families who receive Head Start/Early Head Start services. A group of agencies in Ohio and Massachusetts recently filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the process, which was authorized by Congress in 2007, fails in its mission of only requiring Head Start grantees that were not providing “high quality” and “comprehensive” pre-K programs to compete with others for funding.

This spring’s two rounds of funding opportunities for prospective Head Start/Early Head Start grantees are part of a process that will continue for two more years, during which time all of the nation’s 1,800 Head Start centers will be reviewed. It is worth noting that programs reviewed during this first year of the competition were only evaluated on five out of the seven domains of program quality. As additional benchmarks for quality are phased into Head Start audits over the next two years, providers will be judged on benchmarks that grantees audited this year were not subject to—including the Classroom Assessment and Scoring System.

Health and Human Services has created a website to help with recompetition applications, which are due on July 18. Early Ed Watch will be watching and updating as the process unfolds.

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