The federal government is hoping to improve the quality of local Head Start agencies’ programs by refining how it determines when grantees are falling short and must be thrown into competition for ongoing funding.
Under the new rules for determining whether a Head Start agency may receive a new grant noncompetitively or must be subject to an open competition, high-performing grantees will face an easier time in the contract review process. Those with weak programs are likely to come under more intense scrutiny.
“This change helps ensure the most qualified grantee is providing services to each of our 850,000 Head Start children and their families,” said Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary of the Administration for Children Families, in a statement Thursday. “By reducing the burden on high-performing grantees, the time and resources invested in administering competition will focus on better identifying grantees that are not performing at the level we expect.”
Officials said the new rules should clarify those expectations for all grantees and create a regulatory environment that leads to continuous improvement, not simple compliance with the agency’s standard five-year grants.
Under the regulation, agencies that are found by monitors to have two or more significant quality failures across the grantee’s five-year project period will be subject to open competition for the funding. The previous competitive threshold was one.
The rule also establishes quality markers for teacher-child interactions in Pre-K assessments — a major focus of the push for continuous improvement under the new scheme. Grantees who fall short on one or more will be required to go through Head Start-supported training. There are also greater expectations for a quality classroom environment, and falling short here will subject grantees to competition.
The goal of Head Start is to ensure that participating children enter school ready to learn. Programs provide comprehensive services to low-income families, focusing on early learning for children from birth through age 5, as well as health and family well-being. There are about 1,700 Head Start agencies in the United States.