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Head Start Winners Include Very Few Brand-New Providers

Published:  April 18, 2013

This guest post was written by J.M. Holland, a Head Start teacher in Richmond, Va., recent graduate of the educational leadership doctoral program at Virginia Commonwealth University, and blogger at The Future of Teaching

At the start of this month, the Office of Head Start named 160 preliminary winners in the Obama’s administration’s new “re-competition” process for determining which institutions deserve continued funding to run Head Start and Early Head Start programs. These winners were a combination of 100 providers who had already been administering Head Start and Early Head Start grants and 60 “new” providers. Of those new grantees, only a handful -- three, by my calculation -- are organizations not involved in Head Start services before.

To understand why so few new organizations are winners, it helps to understand the Head Start funding structure. As a teacher and researcher of Head Start, I have learned that this structure is not easy to explain. More than 1,604 institutions receive federal grants to operate Head Start centers, including public institutions, community organizations, and private not-for-profit companies. Over the past 48 years, this grant process has created a widely varied modern federal program. The model enables local communities to custom design and implement comprehensive child development programs as long as they adhere to the framework of performance standards set by the Office of Head Start in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The model has also led to incredible variety in services. Not only are there grants for Early Head Start (the program for mothers, infants and toddlers) that include home visiting. There are also a plethora of institutions that can win Head Start grants, including child care partners, in-home care providers, public schools, full-day, half-day, and not-for-profit private organizations, all providing their local spin on child development. This structure is spread across the country with some institutions awarded and administering two grants and some institutions sub-granting work to “delegates,” and with some institutions working across more than one geographic area and delivering different types of services.  

Given this complexity, I can see why it took the Office of Head Start longer than expected to analyze applications and announce the first five-year grants to be awarded under the 2011 re-competition initiative, the new system for providing Head Start funding to institutions running the programs.  (See New America's brief, Reforming Head Start, for background and details on how re-competition works.) Since Head Start’s launch in 1965, there has never been such an opportunity for the Office of Head Start to start over and do it better. The Obama administration aimed to do so on a grand scale by requiring a subset of grantees – those with spots on their records* -- to re-apply if they wanted to continue to receive funding, possibly competing with new entrants in their locality.   After the administration’s announcement of  localities that included institutions forced to “re-compete,” and now that applications have been submitted and reviewed over the past 12 months, Head Start re-competition is taking another step forward.

This month, on April 3, the Office of Head Start issued a press release naming 160 preliminary winners of head Start and Early Head Start grants across the country.  Using the official list of those preliminary awardees, I created this chart to see the breakdown among the winners for HS (Head Start) and EHS (Early Head Start) grants.

I determined that 55 grants went to organizations that provided both Early Head Start and Head Start services, 89 grants were for only Head Start programs, and 16 grants were for only Early Head Start programs. Not included in the April 3 announcement were six Migrant Head Start programs. Also  missing are grantees for Baltimore Maryland, Detroit Michigan, and Washington D.C.. Grants for these cities fall under the new Birth-to-5 innovation grants offered in February 2013 and expected to be announced soon.

Digging into the grants, the programs designated for re-competition, and the preliminary awardees, I found some trends. For example, in several large urban areas, where programs have been managed by public school systems such as New York city and Los Angeles, the grants were modified to create smaller programs with smaller service delivery areas. In Los Angeles, for example, the Office of Head Start awarded seven Early Head Start Grants and 11 Head Start Grants to 18 providers. (This does not include the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which had already been operating as a Head Start super-grantee and was awarded a grant to continue services for a proportion of its original service area.)

My analysis also shows that in several cases, new grantees are institutions that had been running Head Start programs as delegates, receiving subgrants from institutions that were the official Head Start grantees. In Milwaukee, WI, for example, the Council for the Spanish Speaking, Inc. received a preliminary notification on April 3 that they would now be their own grantee agency instead of a delegate agency. This could enable it to more efficiently provide services to its particular clientele.

Here's how I see the breakdown of new awards:

The table above was built by analyzing theAdministration for Children and Families web page that shows recent Head Start funding opportunities and by opening up the individual profiles of each grantee to see the delegates for each grant. The preliminary awardee list does not distinguish between current and new providers, so I arrived at the three new grantees by filtering out the grantees, including delegate grantees, that were already running Head Start programs. I also cross-referenced Head Start locations administered by programs that seemed established with the grantee profiles. If there were locations listed in the new announcement that were not a part of their current program service area/locality, the program was deemed to be expanding their services.

The grants announced last week are not official yet. In July, the Office of Head Start plans to announce final winners of this first round. 

A second round of re-competition is also underway, with 122 grantees notified earlier this year that they will have to re-apply.

From my perspective, April 3rd's announcement came almost too late, considering that many expected that multiple organizations would be creating Head Start programs from scratch, hiring and training employees, and securing facilities by the start of the new school year a few months from now. If this announcement had been any later it may have been impossible for new grantees to do what they promised in their applications. However, considering that there are only three programs truly starting from scratch, there was apparently less need to hurry. The 18 programs expanding their service area likely already have strong monitoring and accountability procedures in place. Almost every program receiving a preliminary notice is an experienced provider of services to young children and families living in poverty.


* Here are the seven conditions that could lead a Head Start program to be subject to an open competition. Note that numbers 2) and 3) did not apply to this first round of review under the new process.

(1) An agency has been determined to have one or more deficiencies on a single review.

(2) An agency has been determined not to have established, in collaboration with parents, program goals for improving the school readiness of children that Align with the Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework and State early learning guidelines related to appropriate child development. Programs must demonstrate the use and analysis child-level assessment data, collected at least three times per year, to make programmatic decisions and judge program and individual child progress towards school readiness goals. Programs must also demonstrate that individual child assessment data is used to plan, in collaboration with parents, for each child’s progress.

(3) A program must have an average Class Assessment Scoring System score across all classrooms observed below the following thresholds

(i) Emotional Support domain, the minimum threshold is 4;

(ii) Classroom Organization domain, the minimum threshold is 3;

(iii) Instructional Support domain, the minimum threshold is 2;

(4) An agency has had a revocation of its license to operate a Head Start or Early Head Start center or program by a State or local licensing agency

(5) An agency has been suspended from the Head Start or Early Head Start program by ACF (6) An agency has been debarred from receiving Federal or State funds from any Federal or State department

(7) An agency has been determined to be at risk of failing to be fiscally viable.


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