Obama Administration Offers Head Start Overhaul

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

The Obama administration has released a major overhaul of the federal Head Start program that reduces the number of requirements while at the same time expanding the program to last a full day and span an entire school year. It will also increase the services available to children with disabilities and those who do not speak English.

Since it was launched in 1965, Head Start has served more than 33 million children.  The early learning program is geared toward low-income families, and enrolls more than one million children across the country each year.  Program officials are calling the new revisions the most significant to happen since 1975.

“Today we’re unveiling some of the most significant improvements we’ve ever made to Head Start,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, who herself attended the early childhood education program as a child in West Virginia. “The new standards strengthen educational practices and are based on the best research about how children learn and develop.”

One of the major changes to come include the requirement that centers offer full-day programs throughout the full school year.  This is expected to be phased in over the next five years.  Currently, the budget includes $294 million to be used as a downpayment to begin the transition.  However, an additional $292 million will be needed by the program in order to meet the new standards.  The president has proposed this amount in his budget for fiscal 2017.

In addition, the revision would reduce the number of federal regulations surrounding the program.

“The new standards for the program will reduce the current 1,400 Head Start standards by approximately 30 percent, eliminating many prescriptive and duplicative requirements while improving services to children and families in Head Start,” said Blanca Enriquez, director of the Office of Head Start.

Education standards and curriculum requirements will also see an increase, as well as professional development for teachers. Children with disabilities and those who are still learning English will have additional benefits put in place, reports Lauren Camera for US News.

During his State of the Union address in 2013, Obama made a push for universal preschool.  Since that time, he has proposed a $75 billion investment in early childhood education.  However, federal efforts so far have totaled $750 million in several rounds of competitive grants being used to support 230 high-need communities, as well as to offer access to preschools to over 100,000 children.

The overhaul comes right after the release of two reports earlier in the month that found positive results from early childhood education.  This includes a report from The Hamilton Project finding that Head Start increases the probability of students graduating from high school, going on to college, and earning a postsecondary degree.

A separate report from Georgetown University noted the positive influence the Head Start program in Tulsa, Oklahoma had on math scores of students.  In addition, the program was found to reduce the likeliness of being held back a grade or being chronically absent.