In April, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched its highly anticipated Designation Renewal System, which will redistribute federal funding away from low-quality Head Start and Early Head Start providers and favor providers with more proven track records. HHS was met with pushback from the media, individual Head Start providers, and from state Head Start associations--most notably, the Ohio Head Start Association, which filed a lawsuit against HHS claiming the “recompetition” process was arbitrary and unfairly penalized providers for past infractions that may have been corrected.
A federal judge dismissed the suit yesterday, leaving little doubt that Head Start providers in Ohio and elsewhere will participate in the new Designated Renewal System.
The Ohio Head Start Association challenged the “single deficiency trigger,” which requires a Head Start providers found to have one or more deficiencies during a recent audit to compete with other local providers for federal grants. In the past, once a provider received Head Start funding, it usually continued to receive grants year after year.
The Ohio Head Start Association alleged the single deficiency trigger was invalid for three reasons:
1. It is retroactive. In other words, HHS choose which Head Start providers would have to compete in the new Designated Renewal System by looking at audits that took place in previous years, before the new system was put in place or the single deficiency trigger ever existed.
2. It lacks due process.
3. It is “arbitrary and capricious.”
In the court’s view, none of these arguments are valid. The court declared the recompetition system in line with due process, since HHS has a clear and fair auditing process. The court also noted that Congress clearly and explicitly outlined the Designation Renewal System when it reauthorized Head Start in 2007.
The first round of the Designated Renewal System process is currently underway. Potential Head Start grantees in regions where current grantees are at risk for losing funding have until July 18 to apply.